Just a couple weeks ago, Taiwanese netizens bombarded Facebook with a series sarcastic and snarky “apologies” to China. But Taiwanse President Tsai Ing-wen’s recent apology to the island’s Aborigines was nothing like that.
At the Presidential Office Building, 16 representatives from tribes gathered to hear Tsai’s speech, in which she listed the “injustices” done towards the indigenous people and promised not to make the same mistakes again. She also stressed that the indigenous people have their own language, culture, customs, and lifestyle and proposed the formation of commissions and groups that will help preserve their population. The speech fulfills a campaign promise that Tsai made before her election in January.
She later posted on Facebook a transcript of her speech. Tsai started off by emphasizing that Aborigines were the first people to inhabit the land. In Chinese, “Aborigines” literally means “the original inhabitants” (原住民).
Then, in what many feel is a long overdue apology, she said: “I, representing the Taiwanese government today, offer my sincerest apology to the Aborigines for the past 400 hundred years of pain and injustice.”
Tsai also brought up how the Aborigines have been consistently written out of the island’s history:
One ethnic group’s success, may very likely be founded upon another group’s misery.
There is a book titled, “Taiwan’s History,” and a paragraph mentions the Dutch colonials, the Ming and Qing dynasties. However, that is the Han’s side of history. Aborigines have been living here for thousands of years, forming their own culture and knowledge. We have only highlighted our side and for that, I apologize.
In addition, she mentioned past governmental actions that have harmed the Aboriginal people. In 1945, the government prohibited them from using their own language, resulting in the decay and eventual loss of parts of their culture. Also, the government had stored nuclear waste on Orchid Island, which is where the Yami tribe resides, and will provide compensation for that. Furthermore, Tsai brought up “The Indigenous Peoples Basic Law” issued in 2005, declaring that it hasn’t been effectively implemented and vowed that the government would do a better job in the future.
Additionally, Tsai noted that this combination of problems had brought about stereotypes and bias against the Aborigines, leading to inequality. Their wages are 40% lower than the national average and their unemployment is much higher too, HKFP reports.
Tsai announced that the government will form a commission, dedicated to seeking equality for Aborigines. Furthermore, she is requiring the Legislative Yuan to periodically discuss laws regarding Aborigines to ensure proper treatment.
In her speech, Tsai stressed that though she is apologizing, in no way is she asking for their forgiveness. Instead, she asks that they remain hopeful for the future, because past mistakes won’t be repeated. To conclude, she asked that they recognize this as a first step towards action, towards creating a diverse and united society.
Let’s hope Tsai keeps her promises.
By Sarah Lin
[Images via Flickr]