by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Brian Hioe
INDIGENOUS OCCUPIERS continue their occupation on Ketagalan Boulevard, despite facing increasing harassment from the police. Namely, indigenous occupiers anticipate that the Tsai administration wants their occupation, which has lasted over 80 days, is to be cleared before May 20th. May 20th will mark the one year anniversary of the Tsai administration taking power and Tsai is slated to give a speech on Ketagalan Boulevard reflecting on her year as president. Today is the 81st day of the occupation.
In spite of its high profile apology to Taiwanese indigenous on behalf of the ROC government in August of last year and spotlighting Taiwanese indigenous during her inauguration ceremony, the Tsai administration has remained silent when confronting indigenous demonstrators who have occupied Ketagalan Boulevard. This is despite the fact that among the indigenous occupiers on Ketagalan Boulevard is singer-songwriter Panai Kusui, who performed at Tsai’s inauguration. Panai recently released an album of songs written while encamped on Ketagalan Boulevard.
Indigenous occupiers are demonstrating draft proposal put forward by the Council of Indigenous Peoples to restore traditional lands to indigenous did not restore lands which are privately owned to indigenous. Although indigenous estimated the size of their traditional lands as consisting of 1.8 million hectares, indigenous would only be granted 800,000 hectares under the proposal.
Indigenous groups view this as the Tsai administration failing to live up to its promises and as backsliding on promises to realize transitional justice for indigenous. Indigenous groups emphasize that they are not demanding special privileges for themselves, but merely the restoration of what is rightfully theirs. Indigenous groups are also not only calling for the restoration of traditional lands, but for action to be taken regarding continued arrests of indigenous for practicing hunting, as in the case of Tama Talum, and other cases when the ROC state arrests indigenous for merely attempting to practice their traditional culture. Indigenous groups have suggested this is the ROC state failing to properly enforce the Indigenous Basic Law.
Police harassment has increased sharply in the past few weeks, however, with police forcing the removal of several art installations by occupiers and trying to evict the occupation entirely. This has included forceful actions as attempting to drag away wheelchair-bound Nabu Husungan Istanda, Panai Kusui’s husband and a fellow musician. It remains to be seen if police actions will grow in intensity in efforts to force indigenous occupiers off of Ketagalan Boulevard.
As a show of force, then, indigenous demonstrators would hold a concert on Ketagalan Boulevard on Sunday, May 7th, with performances by indigenous musicians including Panai, Suming, Danubak, and others. Starting at 4:30 PM and lasting until after 9:00 PM, the performance drew several hundred. Some commented, however, on the irony of that police presence was minimal during the performance while at other times, facing down hardly a dozen occupiers, police have sometimes mobilizes over one hundred officers, outnumbering demonstrators by many times over.
Indeed, as also remarked upon by Tsay Ting-Kuei of the pro-independence organizations Free Taiwan Party and the Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan, which has maintained an occupation outside of the Legislative Yuan nearby for several years and has been supportive of indigenous occupiers, police attempts to evict indigenous occupiers has been disproportionately large and intensive.
It likely is because of the pressing need of the Tsai administration to get indigenous occupiers off of Ketagalan Boulevard before May 20th that police responses have been so severe. To avoid having their occupation dismantled, indigenous occupiers also held a daylong event to clean-up their occupation on Friday, May 14th, but further actions of the Tsai administration remain to be seen. It may only be a matter of time before the Tsai administration decides to take more decisive measures.
In particular, the Tsai administration is using the the Assembly and Parade Act to try and force indigenous occupiers off of Ketagalan Boulevard. A much hated legal measure dating back to the authoritarian era, the Assembly and Parade Act is seen as restrictive of free speech by many, and the Tsai administration had previously vowed to change the act. Evidently, it finds the act useful for its own purposes now, however.
While indigenous occupiers had demonstrated the strength of their mobilization capacity with the concert held last Sunday, if the police decide to mobilize in such numbers to force them off of Ketagalan Boulevard, there is little that can be done. What remains, then, is to consider what moves should next be taken in order to put pressure on the Tsai administration regarding the traditional lands issue. Maintaining an occupation is certainly one way to apply pressure to the government, but there may be other tactics which need be considered at this juncture.