Taiwanese leader apologises to island’s aborigines for historical injustices
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen made an official apology to the island’s indigenous people for centuries of suffering, in what she hopes is a step towards a grand reconciliation among Taiwan’s ethnic groups.
Tsai said that the move was necessary to restore justice and fairness for a group that has long been the victim of discrimination and neglect.
“On behalf of the government, I formally apologise to all of you for the pain and unfair treatment you have suffered in the past 400 years,” Tsai said at an event in front of the Presidential Office Building in Taipei on Monday. She said a commission would be tasked with discussing the rights and welfare of indigenous people, and said representatives of different tribes would be invited to take part.
During the ceremony, an elder from the Yami tribe asked the government to deal with nuclear waste on Orchid Island, their home off southeastern Taiwan. Tens of thousands of barrels have been dumped on the island over the past three decades and the elder said hundreds of containers were corroding.
Tsai said the Yami could pursue compensation claims and she would ask relevant agencies for a final disposal plan.
The island’s aborigines have suffered at the hands of each wave of arrivals to the island over the past 400 years. They were robbed, enslaved and killed by the Dutch colonials, mainlanders during the Ming and Qing dynasties, and later the Japanese Imperial Army.
Today it has become almost impossible for the island’s 540,000 aborigines to pursue their traditional ways of life after losing rights to most of their historic lands. Lacking access to education and jobs, they have been forced to the edges of society, and many communities are plagued by alcoholism and prostitution.
Tsai sought to address some of that divide. She said the government would seek to introduce a basic law for indigenous people, revive their historic memories and focus on their health and education, as well as provide economic opportunities.
She promised to set up a legal service centre to tackle conflicts between existing laws and traditional practices, including hunting and keeping home-made guns.
The apology was part of a campaign promise Tsai made when she ran for president last year, to forge a new harmony among the public and bridge different political and ethnic groups.
“I sincerely hope that the apology today will mark the beginning of reconciliation among all people in Taiwan,” Tsai said.