by Parson Young and Brian Hioe

English /// 中文
Translator: Enbion Micah Aan
Photo credit: 原無疆界知識系列座談會

Tuhi Martukaw (Jocelyn Ting-Hui Hung Chien) is an anchor and translator on Taiwan Indigenous Television Network (TITV) as well as coordinator and founder of the LIMA Taiwan Indigenous Youth Working Group. Parson Young and Brian Hioe of New Bloom interviewed her in December 2015 in New York City about her experiences with UN delegations of Taiwanese indigenous peoples and at theUN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

New Bloom:  Can you briefly introduce yourself and your background for readers?

Tuhi Martukaw:  My Indigenous name is Tuhi Martukaw. Tuhi was my great-grandmother’s name. Martukaw is a family name from my maternal grandmother. Basically, our names are all from elders who have passed away, and we usually are formally given an Indigenous name after one has grown up. My Chinese name is Hung Chien, Ting Hui. My father is a Hoklo, and my mother is from the Pinuyumayan Peoples, so that’s why I have a 4-character Chinese name. We are from the Kasavakan Community of the Pinuyumayan Peoples in Taitung. I am currently employed as an international news translator for the Taiwan Indigenous TV. 

NB:  When I searched for UN World Conference for Indigenous People, I was surprised to find that the official Chinese name is “World Tribal (土住) People’s Conference”, and it is a very discriminating Chinese term. What mission does this organization have? Why is it that Taiwan’s Indigenous people are not allowed to participate?

PhotoCreditspi'向前走 第三季Tuhi Martukaw being interviewed on spi’向前走. Photo credit: spi’向前走

TM:  The UN World Conference only took place in more than 20 years, actually. What we participate every year is the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII). China is responsible for Chinese translations in the UN. In fact, we raised the issue regarding the translation in 2006, 2007, and 2008. However, the responses we received were not friendlyat least the responses I have seen have not been. They keep saying “土住”, or “Tribal” does not have a negative connotation in Chinese. To them, this is a very neutral term. If we are not happy with such a term, we should seek out well-known Chinese language scholars’ or similar experts’ support to request the change. This is the response I personally have received, at least.

As to UNPFII, which we participate every year, the UN had its inaugural forum in 2002. It is an advisory body under the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) that proposes recommendations by Indigenous groups through the ECOSOC. This forum consists of 16 memberseight designated by governments, and the other eight are nominated by civilian Indigenous groups from around the world that were approved by members of the commission. Other than these members, people like us from NGO’s, academia, government officials, or other UN organizational representatives are all observers. We put forth our recommendations in the conference, and then these recommendations will be presented to ECOSOC through the 16 members, after they’ve organized the recommendations with their additional expert knowledge. When ECOSOC agrees to these recommended programs, they become UN’s official recommended programs.

However, these programs are merely recommendations, and we do not have any enforcement power. So when we initiate the programs, we can’t make requests to member states, and we can only appeal to the organizations within the UN. This is something that a lot of people are confused about, and many feel dejected after coming to the forum for three or four years, and feel that there is no way of making any changes. This forum feels like religious festivities in Taiwan. Because if you look at a two week conference with the average attendance of two thousand people, you can imagine how chaotic the scene is, and often times you don’t know what people are talking about. Of course, there are also a lot of great recommendations. The purpose of the conference is to widely solicit opinions from everyone, collect different thoughts and perspectives on situations, and then make policy recommendations. 

We do encounter issues in our participation and process, and the first is, of course, the problem of nationality. Registration is done online, we are not allowed to use Taiwan’s address, even email addresses with .tw extension are rejected, same with phone numbers. This is very strict, and we have to borrow other people’s addresses to use.

There is actually a history of Taiwan’s Indigenous groups participating in world forums regarding Indigenous issues. Since 1980s, our Indigenous elders have been participating in UN conferences, until 1996, when China aimed its missiles at Taiwan during the first presidential election, and our elders protested this in a meeting in Geneva (at the time, it was the Working Group on Indigenous Population), and called attention to the fact that Chinese military intimidation would threaten Indigenous lives and safety. Since then, we are restricted from registering as Taiwanese. However, I remember when I participated the first time in 2006, I was able to use my Taiwan passport, but was not able to do so since 2008. We think that this has something to do with China’s Sha Zukang (沙祖康) being the Under-Secretary-General for the ECOSOC, as this person has always been unfriendly to Taiwan, and we could see this from his reactions during the SARS crisis.

For me, it is very important to participate in international conferences, since internally in Taiwan, the Indigenous movements have always aligned with the international movements and echoed each other. For example, with the Indigenous Peoples Basic Law, its contents are 90% identical to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Even though Indigenous Peoples Basic Law was not passed until 2005, there was already a draft of UNDRIP in 1985, which was not passed until 2007. There are 2 important concepts from the UNDRIP that are not in the Indigenous Peoples Basic Law: one is collective rights, and the other is actual autonomy.

Within the framework of the Indigenous Peoples Basic Law, there are not collective rights, and autonomy is “conditional self-governance” within the structure of the government. Forgetfulness is a phenomenon in Taiwan, we tend to easily forget history and past experiences. If we forget past experience, we would feel diffident and feel as though we are constantly asking for things, when we elaborate power discourse or when we demand implementation. However, if we understand clearly the historical aspects of Indigenous peoples’ movements, we would find that we do not need to feel diffident or that we are constantly asking for things. Moreover, I feel that even though every time we participate, we have to go through “special channels” to participate in a conference, it is still very important to be physically present. 

As to the forum itself, we are critical of the fact that while this conference is about Indigenous issues, we are still using the definition of modern states and boundaries to determine eligibility, and this is contradictory in its nature. This is not just us. Indigenous peoples from Canada, USA, and Mexico also can’t stand it because their clan is abruptly cut off by the restrictions of state boundaries.

And this is the same for Indigenous people from many South American, African, and Asian nations as well. Additionally, there are groups who can participate in the forum without problems, but it is quite troublesome for them to obtain American visas, and this is an issue we have long raised. The ideology of modern states is a principle we have always resisted. It is a very self-contradictory principle. However, the UN is ultimately an organization made by modern states, so discussion on Indigenous issues under its logic is a paradox itself.

PhotoCreditUN Photo:Eskinder DebebeThe 2014 UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Photo credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

NB:  So what goals do you hope to achieve by participating in these conferences?

TM:  I think the primary purpose is to remind the international community of the existence of Taiwanese Indigenous peoples. To a degree, we are invisible to the international human rights system, so we must inform everyone of our situation. Also, we would like to bring in the issues discussed internationally to Taiwan. I feel that we beat ourselves up in Taiwan, and are disconnected to the concerns of the international community. To speak more frankly, in Taiwan, there are some groups who feel “My issues are THE issue”, whether or not it is Indigenous. I feel the same about organizations in social movements. What we have wanted to say is that these issues, in fact, concern everyone. Whether or not you’re an Indigenous person. In every country, we all face the same problems. If you are crowding out other people’s appeals, you are actually crowding out your own interests. 

There is still another goal to train young people. We formed the LIMA Taiwan Indigenous Youth Working Group to focus on training young people. Everyone will have different interpretations and goals in terms of participation in the UN forum, but I feel that they can at least learn an important lesson: that with many things, you can’t just talk about yourself or your own perspectives, it is necessary to expand your perspective. In fact, they will bring back to Taiwan very difference experiences on such occasions.

NB:  How do you yourself feel about the fact that Taiwanese Indigenous people are excluded from the UN World Conference as a product of Taiwan’s lack of international recognition? Do you feel that this fact reproduces the problems faced by Indigenous peoples in Taiwan twice over, in some sense? As we see from history Indigenous often are excluded in Taiwan on the basis of being non-Han. 

TM:  Yes, this is true with the developments the past few years. When we are in the UN, we feel that we are in solidarity with all the participants who are oppressed Indigenous groups. However, the past years, China’s power is obviously more and more omnipresent. We are finding out that, many people whom we considered as partners in the past, have started to ignore us because of this reality and the consideration that they would like to continue to carry forward their appeals. I wouldn’t call this a betrayal. In fact, many of these organizations are accomplishing great and important things.

But for them to accomplish so much, where is the money from? Of course the money came from the UN, and the donation is generated with the cooperation of the UN. So then where is the UN getting its money? The reasons behind much of this is because of China’s influence. China’s influence is not only obvious in the UN, it is even more influential in Taiwan’s neighboring countries, such as Vietnam, Thailand, and India. This is something we can’t deny. In the past ten years, this is becoming more and more obvious. These Indigenous partners and the veteran activists from different countries I have met from when I first participated, their attitudes towards us have changed significantly. This is not only true for the Indigenous groups in Asia, what surprised me is that, even Sami from Northern Europe also changed their attitude. I feel the economy political influence from behind the scenes is very apparent.

Under such circumstances, I feel that psychologically, we have to strengthen our ability to withstand pressure. The situation will differ from year to year. To be perfectly frank, there are no permanent friends. This change is very obvious. Especially from I started serving as the chairperson in the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus in 2010 to when I resigned in May this year (2015). At first, many organizations came to us for collaboration. I was invited to be a speaker two or three times, but they were all canceled at the last minute. Some organizations were very clear to me and admitted that they were under pressure. Before that (in 2010 and 2011), before China was influential, many would invite us to share our experiences, especially under the political situation in Taiwan, these were experiences they found to be very valuable. However, these couple of years, they fear our attendance, and would rather neglect and avoid us. 

PhotoCreditTuhiMarkutawLIMA Taiwan Indigenous Youth Working Group in 2013. Photo credit: Tuhi Martukaw

NB:  But at least, you could develop some relationships?

TM:  Those relationships become unsteady. I have worked with some very courageous Finnish government officials who invited me to speak in an event, I informed them that everywhere I spoke, there would be Chinese officials. The meeting was in a Finnish Embassy, so he said to me, “The Embassy is our territory, they (the Chinese) can’t do anything.” However, after that event, they never invited me again. I feel that the political discomfort very frustrating. To our members, I keep preparing them psychologically, telling them that we will very likely be rejected, even insulted. 

I remember once in Geneva, the organizers tossed my passport and told me, “You do not exist. You are not a country. This passport is of no value.” Even if you have imagined such scenarios in the past, dealing with such situations in person is still very hard to comprehend – you feel it’s not your fault, why do you have to bear the burden? Other than this, we run into different situations every year. For example, in the past, when we participate in meetings, we would read a statement, especially when I was the chairperson of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, I was, of course, expected to read a statement.

However, from last year on, to ban us from making a statement that year, my name was excluded from the list of speakers. We questioned this after the meeting, and people who have good relationship with us said: If we have a different speaker (not from Taiwan), then we would be able to read a statement. These things started happening around 3 or 4 years ago. However, to me, it is aggravating and bothers me every year, but every year, I still look forward to what will happen, and see what else they could do. 

What is interesting to me is that we encounter such things in places like the UN. However, with exchanges outside of this setting, such as our interactions with Maori or other groups, things actually work out fine. Only in places such as the UN where politics are omnipresent, would we have such problems. This is the reality. 

Besides, I feel that the biggest problem with the UN is that: in all of the reports and studies, there are no surveys about the condition of Taiwan’s Indigenous peoples. This is a huge problem. Incidentally, this year in the forum, we discussed issues regarding Indigenous teenager suicide and self-mutilation; in the past, there were also discussions about violence against and rape of Indigenous women; we have requested the UN to conduct a survey in Taiwan.

As far as suicide rate is concerned, the most recent statistics from Taiwan’s government was published in 2011, with questionable data. According to the government, Indigenous suicide rate is only 1.19% out of all Indigenous deaths of the year, a very low figure. However, from our own experiences, such a low number is impossible. In the communities we live in, we know the numbers are not accurate. We also do not have reliable statistics regarding rape of Indigenous women. When the UN conducts academic statistical surveys, they never come to Taiwan, and we also have no way of understanding the reality. If we do not have the information, how do we know where the problem is? Not to mention how to resolve these problems. This year, we asked whether the UN could use a purely academic and social science perspective to eliminate political interference. There are a lot of training classes and grants that are not available to us. 

NB:  Do you think that they only do these things as a matter of formality?

TM:  It depends on what UN department it is, and some are certainly so, but there are other departments that are quite serious about their work. When I interned at UNICEF, they were quite good, so that is why I push for these researchers to contact us. 

NB:  How have you gotten delegations into the UN in the past? What are issues? And what have reactions been? And is this situation as a product of Taiwan’s peculiar international status is an issue faced by other Indigenous peoples than just Taiwanese Indigenous people? Or is it particular to the situation of Taiwanese Indigenous people? Have you also taken the opportunity to build ties with other Indigenous peoples’ groups?

TM:  When we register, we ask organizations that are friendly to us to help us sign up and use their delegation seats. We also ask organizations for “borrowing” information such as addresses and phone numbers. Of course, I can’t disclose the entire process. However, to attend this meeting, you do not have to use a passport, you could use a driver’s license, an American identification documentation, and temporary residency permits from around the world, as long as it is government issued. Some of us get in with credentials like this. However, if you really do not have any credentials, TECO’s interns in different embassies can bring in visitors with their embassy badge. However, if you go to the forum as a visitor, you can only observe from the back row seats and have few opportunities to speak. 

PhotoCreditCulturalSurvivalDelegates at the World Conference of Indigenous Women in 2013. Photo credit: Cultural Survival

NB:  Does it affect your attendance in anyway with ROC government’s intervention?

TM:  They actually know our situation well, and are quiet when they help us. This is not only true with the UNPFII but also with Commission of Status of Women, when there was a very large group of women organizations from Taiwan, TECO also helped them. They actually know the problems we encounter well.

To be honest, attending the conference has more of a symbolic meaning than a practical one because everyone usually speak about their own issues during the conference. Real influences are achieved in informally organized caucuses and working groups.

NB:  How do you view the increasing links between Taiwanese activists and Indigenous peoples’ activists? In the past, the benshengren nationalism of the Taiwanese independence movement led to the displacement of Indigenous people from the narrative of Taiwanese identity. The current iteration of the movements of course are not quite the same. Can you speak to how Indigenous activists came to recognize that  the new civil movements are not exclusive to Han activists?

TM:  I think the division is not along identity lines, but are issue-based divisions. As early as the anti- child prostitution movement in the 1980s, Indigenous and non-Indigenous activists have started to cooperate until today, but never across all issues. For example, there was considerable cooperation with environmental and constitutional reform issues in the past.

But there is a problem I need to be frank about: I feel that often times, Taiwanese activists only seek out Indigenous participation to legitimize their own causes, as opposed to having a true understanding as to why we should cooperate. For example, in regards to Taiwanese independence, a lot of Taiwanese independence advocates would not accept the notion of Indigenous independence. Internally in Indigenous communities, there is much doubt and uncertainty because of our past experience, trust is still very much an issue.

For example, in terms of environmental protection, the establishment of national parks created great harms to Indigenous people, but much of it was set up and pushed forward by environmental organizations. Certainly, there is an environmental movement faction, much like animal rights organizations, who would advocate to exclude people from the natural environment. We, of course, can’t work with groups like these. But there is another faction that understands the relationship between people and the environment, and they feel that Indigenous residents are an important part of discussions about the environment and realize the need to cooperate. 

These things, in fact, are very hard to define. Different issues, different generations will of course result in different perspectives. We also have our struggles in terms of gender issues. There has been a lot of push for mainstreaming of gender issues in Taiwan, but mainstreaming of gender issues is in itself a very big problem. I have never understood the core demands of those activists. To us, mainstreaming of gender issues will make the issues fall into a narrowly defined gender definition.

With the mainstreaming of gender issues, we often do not see cross gender, nor do we see definition of gender roles and genders, and this causes conflicts with our Indigenous culture. From my cultural understanding, we do not seek equal rights, but rather a balance. Different gender roles of course would have different division of labor, if this relationship is in balance, we are in harmony. But because of modern society, capitalist economy, and other different factors came in and destroyed this balance, and we started having the phenomenon of inequality, or gender discrimination, and even violence. But the argument, in the end, is not an issue of gender and power, but the issue of division of labor. However, discussions regarding gender in the mainstream society is based on the notion of rights, and that significantly conflicts with our perspective. 

But in meetings on this issue I’ve attended in Taiwan, there would be gender equality scholars or activists who would tell us, “You can’t use culture to deny gender equality.” However, for Pinuyumayan peoples, traditionally, men participate in public affairs, and women manage domestic affairs. Before a member of Gender Equality Committee said this would be discrimination in regards to women’s participation in public affairs. But we think this stigmatizes our culture.

Now there is a faction that believes that when we speak of gender equality, culture factors need to take a step back, otherwise, Han people can claim that patriarchy and Confucian gender roles of “male handling public affairs and women managing domestic affairs” is their cultural value. I feel this is where there is difficulty to overcome. This is also unacceptable to our elders who have been long time participants in women’s movement when we have to discuss equal rights and equality. But we ask every time: How do you define equal rights? How do you define equality? What you consider equal, does it also mean equality for us? I feel that with this issue, we have to have a lot of conversations, but this is possibly because these problems are unresolvable, so we would set aside these debates and cooperate on issues we can cooperate on. 

NB:  Do you feel that there will be new voices?

TM:  I think so, but we need more time to let what we advocate clarify and mature. And people we have conversation with, they also need time to understand: this world is supposed to have a lot of different appeals. Many people feel that they are already very open minded, but they still can’t accept so much difference.

photocreditdemocracyat4am (1)The occupied Legislative Yuan during the Sunflower Movement. Photo credit: Democracy at 4 AM

NB:  In a seminar you’ve conducted last time you were in New York, it was highlighted that the ROC state neglects to enforce the Indigenous Basic Law that has been the law of the land for years. How have the Indigenous Rights Activists been fighting for its implementation before the Wild Strawberry era? Has Sunflower significantly affected this issue?

TM:  To be honest, Sunflower and Wild Strawberry were not our movements, but we participated in both. For example, on March 18th, we had partners who rushed to the Legislative Yuan. After the occupation movement started, we also held Indigenous youth forum next to the Legislative Yuan. We wanted to have the platform because many Indigenous people have no idea what the trade agreement is about. The forum we had was to have discussions and clarify issues. And a problem also surfaced: in many of these social movements, we are still marginalized, and generally stuck in confusion. There are many reasons for the confusion, but we can’t say it’s always other people’s fault. Do we stay updated on the situation ourselves? How much do we care? We certainly need to think about these questions.

But there is another external reason. For example, with the trade agreement, each ministry needs to have a risk analysis report. Other ministries have reports that are as long as at least a book, but for Indigenous people, it’s only four pages long. So this is another reason. If the department responsible provides so little information to us, the people will of course get even less information. 

We can also go back to the Indigenous Basic Law. Since 2005, if we participated in Wild Strawberry or Sunflower movements, we would always advocate for its implementation because what it includes, such as Article 21 in regards to economic development, is our most serious appeal. Any activities, regardless of business or scholastic in nature, that affects the communities of Indigenous peoples needs to obtain permission from the local Indigenous peoples first before taking place. This is what we advocate the most often. Like nuclear waste, Article 31 indicates that the government is not allowed to place harmful material without the local Indigenous Peoples’ permission.

But to be truthful, it doesn’t matter how much you scream in the streets, when each ministry does not wish to be involved, these appeals will not be implemented. When the Indigenous Basic Law was passed, the content required any law that is in conflict with the Indigenous Basic Law needs to be amended within three years, including the 82 established bills. However, this is the tenth year since Indigenous Peoples Basic Law has been passed, but only 68 articles have been amended, and the other ten or so articles were left untouched. When requested a list of 68 bills that have been amended, they did not provide a list, so we don’t know where they are as to the progress of amendments.

I think the reason the government is so passive is because they treat Indigenous Basic Law as a symbolic law, and that it is more of a declaration. Both the KMT and DPP governments only look at the Indigenous Basic Law as symbolic, and therefore there is no possibility of implementation. However, no matter what, we will still demand its implementation. 

Now we cite both the Indigenous Basic Law and the Two Conventions (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) in our demands. The Two Conventions also were passed into law. Not only young people, but also many elders would utilize these laws. Because these are the only laws we can advocate for. 

NB:  The political stereotype of Indigenous political leanings in Taiwan in the past has always been that Indigenous communities are usually friendly with the KMT or the pro-unification camp, perhaps epitomized by Kao Chin Su-mei (高金素梅). While it is obviously not true with the new generation of indigenous activists, can  you attest to how aptly this stereotype actually applies to the older  generation? and why this might have been created?

TM:  This is not just the Indigenous communities, but the Taiwanese society as a whole, that will need to make a different choice in the upcoming election. When people say, “Indigenous peoples are all hardened KMT voters”, I think if we look at the numbers proportionally, more Han people support the KMT. In reality, the reason why there are many elders around me who vote for the KMT resides on the election strategies of the two parties. Taiwanese society stress interpersonal relationships, and many pan-blue legislators often skip work to attend weddings and funerals in their districts, especially funerals, to develop relationships.

PhotoCreditRicoShen:WikiCommonsKao Jin Su-mei. Photo credit: Rico Shen/WikiCommons

This is not just true with Indigenous legislators, KMT’s non-Indigenous legislators are also doing this. When the KMT came to Taiwan, they appointed party cadres in cities all over Taiwan, not just in Indigenous areas. Even though these people are not full time party employees, they are always there for weddings and funerals. They appear in your life and you feel the existence of the KMT, and this is what the DPP has not done. Perhaps the DPP does not have the resource to do so, or feels doing so is beneath them, we do not know.

However, interpersonal relationships on the grassroots level is of course very important to human nature. Meeting creates an emotional bond, so if you actually appear in my life, I would naturally trust you a little more. There is, of course, a difference between merely seeing someone on TV or someone who only comes to shake my hand during election. Even when you know this legislator does not do a good job, emotionally, you still give them another chance. This is human nature, you can’t just blame it on ethnic factors. This is where the KMT excels.

Furthermore, if the KMT or Kao Chin Su-mei attends a wedding or a funeral and gift money or supplies, they will surely be marked KMT. Kao Chin Su-mei once found Chinese money to donate a community bus to an Indigenous community, and that bus would surely have a photograph of Kao Chin Su-mei, with “Respectfully Gifted by Kao Chin Su-mei and Chinese XX Company” written on it. Can you say that they are not doing anything for the community? This is why a lot of people feel as though the KMT cares about the livelihood of the people, even if this is not the case in reality. Strategically building relationships is why the KMT has high vote rates in rural areas.

NB:  But then when the Indigenous elders received KMT education, did the content come in conflict with their philosophy? Chinese imperialism forcefully listed Indigenous people as “Descendants of the Yellow Emperor”, and this belief is still in existence today – for example, when Yok Mu-ming (郁慕明) took a group of Indigenous youth to China to worship the Yellow Emperor. This kind of thinking is, of course, even more prevalent under the KMT education in the past, do the Indigenous people have this conflict in terms of this kind of thinking that the education propagated?

TM:  We actually discussed about those who went to China with Yok Mu-ming, and we felt that they did not recognize the issue. They probably thought a free trip abroad is a great thing. I worked in the Legislative Yuan as a legislator’s assistant before, and I also had to arrange this kind of functions. These things are a tie-in, using “Investigate Abroad” as an excuse to take people to trips. As to the people who went along, I personally do not think they actually think much of it or think of any political implications, it is just a free trip.

So this incident was actually pretty Rashomonesque, like the people I have around me tend to be more rebellious. However, like-minded people tend to group together, there are, of course, a group of people are the so-called “stereotypes”, who were deliberately molded since childhood and trained to be partial to the KMT, or even the CCP. There are these groups in the Indigenous communities. However, this should not be overly emphasized as a characteristics of the Indigenous communities, as there are more of these people in the Han communities. Often times, people from the outside could read too much into this incident, which makes it baffling. We can, of course, inquire: You know exactly what Yok Mu-ming stands for, why did you still went along despite the high likelihood of being taken advantaged of?

We actually do not know the individuals he took with him. I used to think that if they were college students, then they should have some sense. However, later, I thought, I unrealistically expected college students to definitely be vigilant. Because I have met many college students, Indigenous or not, who would not think of the political implications. 

New_Party_Chairman_Yok_Mu-minYok Mu-Ming, chairman of the New Power Party. Photo credit: WikiCommons

NB:  How should we resist, in your opinion?

TM:  From my experience in Indigenous communities, I feel it’s still too difficult to change the minds of the elders. Because there are a lot of disputes. Besides, obviously, in Indigenous communities, there is an especially high number of public sector workers. Currently, there is a large percentage of state employees, military personnel, police, teachers, and nurses. There are also a lot of people working in Taipower Company, Taiwan Railways, and other state-owned industries. Many of my uncles are engineers in the Taipower Company, so they are angry with me for my participation in social movements. I grew up economically relying on Taipower to a degree, but yet I am against nuclear power. 

Of course, this had its influence, not to mention that the elders would have to register as KMT members when they serve the military draft. You have to be a KMT member to be a teacher or work in a nationalized industry. With benefits like “One Week Honor Holiday for KMT Members”, who would not want that? These things, of course, affected the elders. It’s actually very cruel to try to prove to them that they are wrong. 

Of course, the elders around me imperceptibly will think differently. However, it is impossible for them to change their minds for next year’s election. For young Taiwanese people, it is better to go vote yourselves than trying to convince the elders. The youth voter turnout is still quite low. The ideological shift in Indigenous youth, as well as non-Indigenous youth, is obvious, but we still have to vote to make actual changes.

NB:  Then how will young Taiwanese people make the right choice in the election?

TM:  As I speak to young people in Taiwan, not just Indigenous young people, I found that they still feel that it is wrong to as questions. After all, the education we received since we were young is “Do Not Keep Asking Questions.” In Taiwanese, there is a saying: “Children have ears but not mouths.” Of course, there is an awakening amongst 20 to 30 year olds, but you still see this in younger people. It seems like everyone needs to be in graduate school or start working before asking questions, and starting to feel like calling things into question is normal. This has much to do with the education in Taiwan. Taiwan’s education tells its children not to be different, so students who call things into question will be labeled as troublemakers. 

When I give speeches to young people, I always say, “It is OK if you feel like I am speaking out of term. However, I hope that you will think: if you do not agree with me, what is the reason? There must be a rationale for a disagreement, but don’t disagree just because you don’t like the way I look.” If everyone is rebellious for the sole reason of being rebellious, people will say, “Young people are all like this”. So whether you agree or disagree, you should have your own reasons.

I graduated from the Diplomacy Department in National Chengchi University. Chengchi University is a school with heavy KMT influence, particularly in the Diplomacy Department. Thus, when March 18th happened, a lot of my schoolmates, perhaps coming from a more KMT background, perhaps putting more emphasis on trade and economy, all believed that the Cross-Strait Service Trade Pact is very important to Taiwan. However, when we discuss, I could at least see there are reasons for our positions. However, on many occasions, ideology trumps rationality, and then the discourse becomes empty.

NB:  What kind of economic hardships do Indigenous workers, especially the youths who just finished school, often face? What kind of measures or alternatives do you think most Indigenous are calling for in order to address these issues?

TM:  This definitely is there. Class is still a factor, but class is not only ethnic because ethnic relations in Taiwan have become more complicated. However, there are still reasons for economic hierarchy, and it is because our national policy is still focused on monetary benefits. Cash is given since you are young, or benefits are given, and this is the government thinking it is taking care of people.

But there are harms that come with this. First, how long can you take care of people this way? Second, is this not a way for people to feel a dependency on the government, and lessen their choices? We also have a lot of Indigenous students who study nursing in schools, will they be able to find jobs after they graduate? This is a problem from the standpoint of the healthcare system in Taiwan. Our healthcare system still needs people, but the salaries are still quite low, so even when this is a shortage, a lot of people are not willing to take the jobs.

This is not only because of the prolonged political oppression the ethnic groups have been through, it is not so simple. This is a problem with the nation’s policy, not just towards the Indigenous population. Government thinks of solutions with the reliance on welfare and thinks that it is enough to hand out money – this is very short sighted. As far as the employment policies the government has pushed forward in the past 10 or 20 years, when they report on workers and job matching, they only pay attention to matching ratio and the facilitation of yearly employment rate. Attention is not paid to how long workers stay in their jobs, and if the employment duration is short, the reasons for leaving their jobs. None of this is examined, and they only look at the position of matching and employment in five years. 

This is not just employment that is a problem – we see the same phenomenon in college attendance. College attendance is at a very high rate of 70 to 80% among Taiwanese Indigenous youths. However, what about the dropout rate and leave of absence rate? Many of these reports only look at easy indicators, but do not follow up with their surveys. And our government’s strategy is always “What growth will we see in 3 to 5 years?” This is very short sighted. 

The UN pushed forward a policy called “human rights-based approach to programming,” in an attempt for governments to abandon the logic of benefits. That is, issues with schools and employment are all human rights issues. Governments should treat these problems as human rights, then it will not be policies to offer money for short term benefits. This takes a long term thinking. But Taiwan’s government does not manage this because for them, especially for the mayors in cities and counties, their terms are only four or eight years, so they only want the voters to look at the statistical improvement in the short term. This is what the policies focus on. You don’t see anything of substance.

If attention is not paid to this problem, then in 20 to 30 years, the vulnerable class will still exist, and will not get worse, especially when our ethnic makeup gets more and more pluralistic. 

PhotoCreditMATATaiwanTuhi Martukaw in the UN General Assembly Hall. Photo credit: Mata Taiwan

NB:  Lastly, what would you have to say to not only Taiwanese readers, but also international readers who may not know so much about the situation of Taiwanese Indigenous peoples?

TM:  Sometimes, we deliberately flag issues as ethnic issues, and highlight the perspective of identity. However, this perspective will neglect many cross-ethnic issues.

When I was working in news, I often find that many problems are problems of the entire society, not just Indigenous issues. Of course, there are things you can resolve with the perspective of identity, but more often, if we overly emphasize on identity, we ignore the important common problems. Some problems affected and influenced some people more because of their identity, but that does not mean we do not need to face the these issues together, or that the more influential ethnic group should have bare more responsibility, and use more resources to resolve the problems. From my observation with Taiwan the past few years, I found that government especially has this thinking, if it’s a problem with Indigenous peoples, they’d simply hand the problem to the Council of Indigenous Peoples and call it a day. However, we are not just Indigenous peoples, we are also Taiwanese people, also living on this island, and will be affected by ROC’s different policies from different departments, how can you just cut us off this way?

This is something we have to think about. Of course, we, the Indigenous peoples, have our particularities, but these particularities are not used to make everyone feel like, “They’re special, so I should pity them”, but to make people understand where the differences are.

I think that this is also true not only to Indigenous peoples, but also people with different backgrounds, and new immigrants. I feel everyone gets nervous and scared with these particularities, and many social movement groups and environmental groups do not dare to go to Indigenous communities because they are scared of taboos, and feel there is too much unfamiliarity. If we are cut off because of this, aren’t we setting the cart before the horse?

So what I want to say is: We are supposed to be different, and the differences make different experiences to a degree, but this does not mean we do not live in the same world or face different problems. 

Parson Young studied in New York University for his masters in Political Science. He is a member of the US branch of the International Marxist Tendency, as well as an English editor for New Bloom. His academic interest turned from African (especially East African) International Political Economy into Marxism.

Brian Hioe was one of the founding editors of New Bloom, a freelance writer on social movements and politics, and an occasional translator. A New York native and Taiwanese-American, he has an MA in East Asian Languages and Cultures from Columbia University and graduated from New York University with majors in History, East Asian Studies, and English Literature.

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