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The Origin and Significance of August 1st, the Indigenous Peoples’ Day

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  • Online Date:2020/03/04
  • Modification Time:2020/04/21 10:01:32
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I. From “Fan”, “Takasago-zoku”, “Shanbao” to “Indigenous Peoples”

Indigenous peoples are the original owners of Taiwan. Nevertheless since more than four hundred years ago, they have been reigned by foreign regimes and given different names. For instance, during the rule of the Qing Dynasty, indigenous peoples were called “fan”, meaning barbarian. Qing used the term ‘cooked/tamed/civilized fan’ for those who had pledged their allegiance, and ‘raw/wild/uncivilized fan’ to define those people who had not submitted to Qing rule. During Japanese rule, the Japanese government referred to them as ‘fan’ or ‘Takasago-zoku’. During the early period of Chinese Nationalist Kuomintang(KMT) rule, the term ‘shanbao’, meaning ‘mountain compatriots’, was invented. All these terms are discriminatory, stigmatized and invented by the rulers. Indigenous peoples themselves did not have the right to determine their own names.

Since 1984, there have been people claimed to rectify the term ‘shanbao’ to ‘indigenous people’. On December 29th, 1984, a group of indigenous intellectuals established the very first indigenous rights advocacy group and named it ‘Association for Advancing Taiwan Indigenous People’s Rights’. With the term ‘indigenous people’, which was selected and decided by indigenous people themselves, this term came up with the hope to get rid of the stigma and made the request to the mainstream society to recognize the fact that indigenous people are the original owners of this land and they refuse to be colonized anymore. After that, The Declaration on the Rights of Taiwan Indigenous People was issued in 1987 to proclaim indigenous people’s status and rights.

A highly converged consensus on the claim for the rectification of name among the indigenous society has become the core demand of the indigenous constitutional amendment movement. On April 15th, 1991, indigenous people raised their first protest demonstration for name rectification during the National Assembly amended the Constitution for the first time. At that time, indigenous peoples strongly demonstrated their collective willpower on demanding to rectify their name with the term ‘yuanzhumin’ referred as the original owners of Taiwan. Unfortunately, the first constitutional amendment did not respond to the demand on name rectification and maintained the term ‘shanbao’. In May 1992, when the Constitution amended for the second time, indigenous people initiated a rally again, but the demand for name rectification still totally failed.

II. The Day of Rectification as the Indigenous Peoples’ Day

The name rectification movement of indigenous people aroused a strong sense of self-identification among the indigenous society. On March 8th, 1994, the working group on constitutional amendment of the Democratic Progressive Party(DPP) came to the decision to include indigenous people’s name rectification and self-government in their constitutional amendment motion list. On April 10th, the then-president Lee Teng-hui attended the Conference on Indigenous Cultures in Pingtung, held by the Council for Cultural Affairs of Executive Yuan. Lee used the term ‘yuanzhumin’(indigenous people) in his remark for the first time as the head of state. The then-president Lee’s act actuated KMT’s constitutional amendment planning team to include the replacement of ‘shanbao’ with indigenous people in its constitutional amendment draft on April 14th. On June 23rd, the Association for Advancing Taiwan Indigenous People’s Rights and other 36 organizations gathered more than 3000 indigenous people from different parts of Taiwan and supporters from various fields to participate in the rally called for the inclusion of indigenous people’s rights to name rectification, land and self-government in the Constitution.On July 1st, the then-president Lee took the initiative to meet with the representatives of the indigenous constitutional amendment movement and made specific commitment to rectify ‘Shanbao’ to ‘Indigenous People’ into the Constitution.

With the effort made by the indigenous constitutional amendment movement and the support form general public, the Additional Articles of the Constitution of the Republic of China finished its Third Reading in the National Assembly on July 28th, 1994. This amendment has approved Article 9 (7) which provided that “the State shall accord to the aborigines in the free area legal protection of their status and the right to political participation. It shall also provide assistance and encouragement for their education, cultural preservation, social welfare and business undertakings.” The Additional Articles of the Constitution of the Republic of China were announced by the president and came into force on August 1st in 1994. This amendment had responding to the demand that indigenous people have pursued for a decade. The term ‘shanbao’ had been used for more than 40 years long, and was finally replaced with ‘indigenous people’.In 1997, when the Constitution was amended for the fourth time, the term with the indication of collective rights, a plural form ‘indigenous peoples’, replaced ‘indigenous people’ into the Constitution.

To commemorate this day, The August 1st, in the 2944th cabinet meeting of the Executive Yuan held on June 15th, 2005, the draft of the Implementation Regulations on Memorial Days and Holidays was passed and it worded August 1st as the Indigenous Peoples’ Day. On July 31st the same year, the first celebration event for the Indigenous Peoples’ Day was held in the Xinzhuang Gymnasium. The then-president Chen Shui-bian attended the event and officially made the announcement that Indigenous Peoples’ Day shall be observed on August 1st every year. Chen also mentioned in his remark, “to rectify ‘shanbao’ to ‘indigenous peoples’ is not only for the people live on this land to recognize the proper status of indigenous peoples in the history of Taiwan, but also to return the dignity to indigenous peoples. The memorial days and holidays are with the solemn significance to pass down the tradition and make our history progressive. To establish August 1st as the Indigenous Peoples’ Day is because we realized the great significance of the name rectification of indigenous peoples to the normalization development of this country.”

III. The Significance of Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Three significant implications could be drawn from the embeddedness of ‘indigenous peoples’ into the Constitution as the Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

First, the term ‘indigenous peoples’ was the manifestation of self-determination. It was not a term given by others. To use a self-determined term is to construct the collective subjectivity and symbolize the reconstruction of self-esteem, the pursuit of proper social status, and the resolute will to break away from colonization. The term ‘indigenous peoples’ also emphasize the original connection with Taiwan thus to honor indigenous peoples as the original owners of this island and their particular status in Taiwan.

Second, to review the process of indigenous peoples’ name rectification movement, indigenous peoples were not only struggled for the right to self-determination on their names, but also the core inherent rights to self-governance and land. In a short word, indigenous peoples had built their own way of living, social regulations and governance on this island prior to the contact of outsiders. In other words, indigenous peoples indeed have inherent sovereignty toward their living territories. Though this sovereignty reflected on indigenous peoples’ holistic and exclusive ruling power within their living territories, indigenous peoples were treated as a subject when outsiders came after. It means that indigenous peoples were only an object being described, determined and dominated. Gradually, indigenous peoples became an invaded one from discovered one, and even on this day, indigenous peoples are the one to be guarded. From the name rectification movement to the Indigenous Peoples’ Day, it symbolized that indigenous peoples have become a legal entity in the context of national and international laws. As to the national laws, indigenous peoples have the right of equality provided by the Constitution, and the collective rights to self-government, land, language and culture provided by the Indigenous Peoples Basic Law which was enacted in 2005. As to the international laws, indigenous peoples, whether as a collective entity or individual ones, have all the rights provided by international human rights law and the rights to self-determination, self-government, land, property, culture and compensation declared by the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Last but not least, the Indigenous Peoples’ Day remind us that Taiwan has a long and established history of more than six thousand years. And ever since the beginning, indigenous peoples were already existed on this island, and has built their diverse and unique cultures. Therefore, the Indigenous Peoples’ Day is not only to commemorate the process of the name rectification but to review thousands of years of history in Taiwan and the long-term contribution of indigenous peoples to this land. It also praise that this island is a state with multi-ethnic groups coexist and share common prosperity. May all the citizens shall respect and appreciate the beauty of indigenous peoples’ cultures.

IV. Looking to the Future Towards Indigenous Self-Government

For more than 20 years, indigenous peoples have been struggled for their rights to name rectification, self-government and land via the name rectification constitutional amendment movement. One of above, self-determined name rectification has achieved in 1994. Nonetheless, the ideal and vision to indigenous self-government and the protection of land right, are still on the progress in Taiwan. Looking to the future, it shall base on the restoration of indigenous peoples’ traditional territories to gradually implement steady and substantive indigenous self-government. Thus for indigenous peoples to restore their status as the subject to make decisions on their own, no more as the object to be decided by others like in the past four hundred years. It is also for indigenous peoples to restore their status and dignity as the original owners of Taiwan.

The history of the indigenous name rectification movement is the precious heritage owned by the whole Taiwanese society. This day has reminded us of how hard to reach this status of the cultural diversity and ethnic equality we live around nowadays. Hence, the Indigenous Peoples’ Day is not merely for indigenous peoples to observe and celebrate, it is the most important national memorial day that every citizen can share with each other in this country.