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Translated by Yi-chia Chen and Yi-ling Lin. For the original at Mata Taiwan, click hereThis is a response to Kharis Templeman’s “Tsai Ing-wen’s Pingpuzu Aborigines Challenge.”   


On August 1, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen promised that “relevant regulations will be reviewed by September 30 and the government will recognize the Pingpuzu (unrecognized, “assimilated” indigenous peoples) and grant rights to them.”

As the promised date drew near, there were  rumors among Pingpuzu online groups that the President is very likely to renege on her promise. Unfortunately, what the Pingpuzu people received was, as expected, no more than a news release from the Office of the President:

The President promised on August 1 that “relevant regulations will be reviewed by September 30 and the government will recognize the Pingpuzu and grant rights to them.” In response to that, the Executive Yuan planned to convene the ”Meeting on Pingpuzu Identity regulation review” on September 28 (notice of meeting as attached). However, due to theoffice closure caused by Typhoon Megi, the meeting is rescheduled to October 7. “Preliminary proposal for regulation review has been formulated, the Executive Yuan will reconvene the meeting as soon as possible,” the Council of Indigenous Peoples states.


The Council of Indigenous Peoples has  collected materials for research, including previous reports, legal opinions, etc. and the regulation review has been processed following the President’s instruction. The Council of Indigenous Peoples has also received considerable pleas and advice made by Pingpuzu groups from the Office of the President and the Executive Yuan, all of which will be taken into consideration.

The Council of Indigenous Peoples would like to emphasize that preliminary proposal for regulation review has been reported to Minister without Portfolio Lin Wan-I and Premier Lin Chuan. To make sure that the proposal is acceptable to the public, Premier Lin particularly had Minister Lin invite scholars and experts to discuss it further on September 28. Meanwhile, Premier Lin also asked relevant ministries to reallocate budget and resources. However, due to the closure of office caused by Typhoon Megi, the meeting is postponed to October 7.

Lastly, the Council of Indigenous Peoples confirms that suggestions offered by various groups, such as recognizing the Pingpuzu peoples as “Plains Indigenous,” or as “Pingpu Indigenous,” or as “Pinpuzu Ethnicity,” will all be considered in the discussion in the meeting convened by Minister without Portfolio Lin. The conclusion of the meeting, along with the budget expenditure, will be reported to high-level officials and a final conclusion will be reached.”

Indeed, the government may have kept  their promise to ”review the relevant regulations” by September 30, yet the government failed to ”recognize Pingpuzu and grant rights to them,” the part that really matters.

In addition,the official notice for the September 28 meeting issued on September 26, which was two days before the meeting and everyone knew that Typhoon Megi was about to hit Taiwan. Consequently, it raised some doubts about the government’s sincerity.

Nevertheless, it is not the postponement of the promise that worries me and many of the Pingpuzu people the most. Rather, it is a dilution of her promise. Disregarding the Pingpuzu people’s objection, the government includes “Pingpu Indigenous” and “Pingpu Ethnicity” as two of the three options to determine how to grant identity to the Pingpuzu. This is not consistent with President Tsai’s promise that she gave during the campaign, which is granting rights to Pingpuzu under the principles of “respecting Pingpuzu’s self-identity and admitting their identity.”

Recognize the Pingpuzu as Indigenous Peoples

The Pingpuzu people have made numerous public appeals, including at least three summit meetings in the past two years. A consensus had already been reached: that the state should recognize the Pingpuzu as part of the existing Indigenous Peoples. Rather than establishing a “Pingpuzu Affairs Council” similar to the Hakka Affairs Council (Proposal C), or setting up another “Pingpu Indigenous” category under the Council of Indigenous Peoples (Proposal B), the Pingpuzu wants to be classifed as “Plains Indigenous” (Proposal A),

In other words, Proposal C means is that the Pingpuzu is a separate ethnic group altogether; similarly, Proposal B implies is that the Pingpuzu is a distinct subgroup of indigenous peoples but do not share the same rights as existing indigenous peoples. Among the three options, Proposal A alone considers Pingpuzu as “part of the same indigenous peoples who suffered historical injustices.”

Some days ago, Kharis Templeman, writing for Ketagalan Media, points out in his article ”Tsai Ing-wen’s Pingpuzu Aborigines Challenge” that making promise on Pingpuzu recognition is a “courageous thing” to do for President Tsai but also has made the job of her new commission on indigenous justice much harder. Some even describe the movement as “opening a Pandora’s box.”

It has been rare to see the issue of Pingpuzu recognition discussed in a foreign media. The article reveals the public’s lack of understanding about Pingpuzu recognition and the history of the Pingpuzu in the past 400 years. To a certain degree, Proposal B and Proposal C are products of this misunderstood vision toward recognition.

However, this is a good opportunity to convey our expectations about Pingpuzu recognition, through the following responses to the article. 

Loss of culture and language is not a true issue

First of all, in the conclusion of the article, the author worries that “if Pingpuzu activists are successful in claiming special recognition based on ancestry for a whole swath of people who are Hoklo by culture and language, then why not others?”

The logic in this conclusion is odd. If many people are successful in being recognized as “indigenous people”, then these “others” must be “non-indigenous people”. This way, what’s the point of discussing it at all? What the Pingpuzu people ask for is one thing and one thing only: let the indigenous be indigenous.

Aside from that, Templeman’s argument is based on an assumption that the 16 officially recognized indigenous nations are different from “non-indigenous people” because of culture and language.

The fact is that familiarity with the language and culture of the indigenous groups with whom they claim kinship, or the ability to speak the traditional language, are not the standards to determine legal indigenous status. In other words, even a child of an indigenous person who cannot speak a single word of their mother language, who does not recognize his or her origin, or who is not familiar with traditional culture practices at all, he or she is still qualified to be indigenous simply due to his or her self identity and blood relations.

In this sense, it is paradoxical that some doubt whether Pinpuzu should be included as indigenous on the ground of language and culture continuance. It reveals double standards on the same issue.

Every indigenous person has faced lost of culture under previous colonizations

In fact, if we take a look at the map of Taiwan, it is not hard to realize why the Pingpuzu was attacked by foreign culture, or even lost their self-identity much earlier than the other officially recognized peoples. The Pingpuzu native homelands are in the west and northeast of Taiwan, where foreign colonizers landed in the past several hundred years.

This is also why the Pingpuzu has been in endless migrations since 400 years ago. There were four well-known mass migrations in the 19th century, all to flee the foreigners who took their homelands.

From this history, many indigenous nations gradually lost their own languages and cultures. For example, the Taivoan people of Liuchong River (六重溪) in Tainan, still held their worshiping rites in public in the 1950s. Yet, outsiders often went to the ceremony as racist tourists watching “a barbarian dance performance,” which led the Taivoan people to slowly close the worshiping rites to outsiders.

When interviewing indigenous peoples from ages 30 to 50, almost every interviewee shared that their parents spoke their native language, but forced the children to speak Mandarin instead of their mother tongue to avoid discrimination from others.

I remember there was a young Amis man who told me: “In the past, you demand us to not speak our mother tongue. Now we lose our language ability, and you say that we are don’t sound like aborigines.”

Before the rights of indigenous peoples are recognized, there are many celebrities do not dare (or told not to by their managers) to acknowledge they are indigenous.

This is why the law nowadays does not distinguish the indigenous by language or culture practice. The Indigenous People Status Act, in a sense, gives those who have given up their indigenous cultures and languages a way home.

We can substitute “Pingpuzu” for “indigenous” in every example above, because the Pingpuzu suffered the same exact things–just since much earlier, as in 400 years ago.  

Regretably, if the government is not willing to use the same criteria to see the Pingpuzu’s situation, there will always be peculiar policies such as Proposal B (does not recognize the Pingpuzu as victims of colonization) or Proposal C (does not recognize Pingpuzu as indigenous people).

The biggest misconception: the Pingpuzu has already assimilated

Templeman questions that Pingpuzu recognition “has the potential to further weaken the limited protection afforded to surviving indigenous languages and cultural practices.” However, opposing Pingpuzu recognition hurts the rights of the Pingpuzu to preserve their languages and cultures; and the underlying assumption is that Pingpuzu’s languages and cultures have all but become extinct.

“Pingpuzu have already assimilated into the Han people” is what people often misunderstand. This is also the fundmental incorrect assumption that Templeman makes in his policy analysis.

There are still at least 10 tribal nations within the “Pingpuzu” moniker, with over 10 different languages. It is rather inappropriate to use “Pingpuzu” to lump them into one category (like the term “indigenous” also includes a variety of diverse peoples.)

There are many languages and cultures among the Pingpuzu which have not vanished yet. The Kaxabu, a people of Puli in Nantou, still claims dozens of clansmen that can fluently communicate in their native language. The Siraya of Tainan is actively reviving their language through historical records, and promoting their mother tongue in elementary schools, hoping to change the status of Siraya from “extinct language” to “vulnerable” in the corpus of UNESCO.

Throughout Taiwan, many more worshiping rites held by Pingpuzu peoples never went away, just not seen by the rest of us. The Papora, a people of Daducheng in Nantou, has always kept their ceremonies away from outsiders, nor do they want the attention.

Accordingly, many of the Pingpuzu culture has not in fact become extinct, just not well known. For this reason, the term “reenactment” that the editor uses in the article is inappropriate. After all, if there is no break, how is it possible to reenact?

It’s President Tsai’s political problem

In the past few years, the government has already discussed every proposed solution. The question is not whether the Pingpuzu should be recognized, but how to deal with the politics.

The Pingpuzu recognition movement originated in 1980. At the time, Gongliao (in New Taipei) was selected as the site of the Fourth Nuclear Plant. The local Ketagalan people, a Pingpuzu people, vehemently opposed it, which opened the door for Pingpuzu recognition in the next 30 years. The Kevalan director, Bauki Agnaw, was the first to film the story of his own tribal nation in the 1990s, but to this day still cannot get recognized as indigenous.

Many indigenous related activists support Pingpuzu recognition, and many officials and indigenous legislators have also built relationships with the Pingpuzu activists. It would be strange to say that they do not realize the existence of Pingpuzu cultures or don’t see the determination of the Pingpuzu recognition movement.

Indeed, in policy making, resource allocation is a serious consideration. But according to the numerous resolutions that Pingpuzu have already made, using household certification from the Japanese colonial period as the criteria for Pingpuzu identification, there are only 200,000 people who can claim to be Pingpuzu, which is less than the total population of the Amis nation. Furthermore, President Tsai has already clearly stated during her campaign that the budget for indigenous affairs will be increased in proportion to the growth in population after recognition. This shows that President Tsai has at least considered the resource allocation question.

However there is a cruel political truth. In the article, Templeman says that “it is not a coincidence that most of the current indigenous legislators have not been enthusiastic about President Tsai’s apology: Pingpuzu recognition threatens to dilute the voting power of their constituents.” This point involves the number of parliamentary seats. As of now there is no good solution, but we can only hope that all indigenous peoples will remember the original call to action for all of us to be recognized.

To summarize, the biggest challenge for President Tsai is whether she can be firm on her aspiration of indigenous people’s transitional justice.

Tunkan Tansikian, the previous vice chairperson of the Council of Indigenous Peoples, has said “if we damage a Mercedes-Benz by accident, we won’t refuse to pay just because the owner is already rich.” These words can also apply to the obligation of compensation that government owes the indigenous peoples.

If the state pays the owner of the Benz damaged 200 years ago, it should also pay the the owner of the Benz that was damaged 400 years ago, right?

October 7 has passed. People are still looking to see whether the first promise of indigenous people’s transitional justice from President Tsai can be realized under the principle of “respect and recogniition for the Pingpuzu.”

(Feature photo of Siraya protest in front of Legislative Yuan in the beginning of the year, from Mata Taiwan)


Mata Taiwan

Founded in 2013, Mata Taiwan is the largest online media in Taiwan calling for the awareness of indigenous rights. Named after ‘mata’, a common word for “eyes” shared by nearly all the Austronesian peoples, Mata Taiwan is devoted to being the eye for everyone to see the true colours of the indigenous peoples in the world.