Indigenous people affected by the Typhoon Morakot disaster and supporters held a protest in Taipei today. They protested against the government’s reconstruction plan and fear they may be forcefully relocated from their lands as a result of the disaster.
While marching from 228 Park to Ketagalan Boulevard they shouted, “We want to go home!” Meaning they want to return to their home villages after being evacuated as a result of the disaster. They also shouted out three demands, “Respect the indigenous communities, stop and investigate the reconstruction legislation, oppose forced relocation of villages” (尊重部落主體性、重建條例暫緩審查、反對強制遷村).
Many of the people affected by the typhoon are indigenous people living in mountain areas. A press release put out by the organisers of today’s protest noted that according to Article 10 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, “indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories.” Furthermore Article 20 of Taiwan’s Indigenous Peoples’ Basic Law (IPBL) recognises the “right to lands and natural resources”.
Civil society groups including the Green Party and Taiwan Association for Human Rights also raised their concerns about the reconstruction plan saying it gives too much power to the central government and fails to include local people affected by the disaster in consultations and committees. Of special concern is Article 12 which empowers the government to forcefully remove villages without consultation with the local people. This is against Article 21 of the IPBL which says that indigenous people must be consulted about and give consent to any projects on their lands.
Forceful relocation of indigenous peoples from their lands is nothing less than an act of genocide. Indigenous peoples have lived in the mountain areas for thousand years and have knowledge about which areas are safe. The main threats to indigenous people come from changes to the environment, especially in the last 100 years as a result of the colonial policies of the Japanese and martial law era KMT governments. In many cases the villages were relocated to lower areas that are more susceptible to landslides and flooding during these eras of colonialism.
It is also essential to recognise that the community or village (部落) is the basic unit of social organisation of indigenous peoples in Taiwan. Although they might be commonly identified as belonging to a certain ethno-linguistic group such as Atayal or Bunun, their own personal identity is based on belonging to a community typically of a few hundred people. Keeping these communities together is essential to maintaining culture and allowing people to work together to rebuild their homes.
The post-typhoon reconstruction should be viewed as an opportunity to avoid some of the mistakes that have been made in the past. The fundamental right of indigenous people to live on their traditional lands must be respected. Where it is necessary to relocate villages it should be to a nearby location after full consultation with the local people. The government must not be allowed to enact legislation which destroys indigenous communities and their culture.