by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Mayaw Biho/Facebook
THE INDIGENOUS occupation on Ketagalan Boulevard demonstrating for the return of traditional lands was cleared and evicted Friday, on a rainy day in which heavy downpours led to severe flooding in parts of Taipei. Friday would have been the occupation’s one hundredth day, raising the possibility that police did not want the occupation go on beyond one hundred days.
What has been particularly provoking of outrage, however, was that it is also highly possible that police took advantage of the near-typhoon conditions in Taipei to clear the occupation. Police likely realized that the weather would make it difficult for indigenous occupiers to mobilize support and that the typhoon would probably take up most of the media’s attention, leading to minimal coverage of the eviction.
Indeed, this seems to have been a successful strategy on the part of the police, seeing as there was far less coverage focused on the eviction than one would have otherwise expected. But this has also raised the criticism that police really should have been preoccupied with disaster relief elsewhere in Taipei, rather than focusing their attention on clearing a small indigenous occupation.
Although there occupation encampment was dismantled, indigenous occupiers remained outside overnight on Ketagalan Boulevard despite the rain. Since then, indigenous occupiers rallied on Sunday, vowing to escalate future actions, and have once again returned to Ketagalan Boulevard, though they are now located outside of the NTU Hospital MRT station in absence of an encampment. It remains to be seen as to what are the next steps that indigenous occupiers will take. While police have attempted to drive indigenous occupiers off in the past, as well as dismantled parts of the encampment, but indigenous occupiers have always managed to hang on, either relocating or rebuilding their campaign. Police had not dismantled the encampment in its entirety before before Friday.
It may be due time for indigenous occupiers to change tactics, instead of expending a large amount of time and energy into maintaining an encampment with faces continual harassment from the police. However, it is also possible that indigenous occupiers will attempt to rebuild their encampment.
Indigenous occupiers previously expected that they might be evicted before May 20th, seeing as president Tsai Ing-Wen was scheduled to give on the one year anniversary of her inauguration on Ketagalan Boulevard. As such, there was an uptick in police harassment of the occupation as May 20th approached. But likely to avoid confrontation, when May 20th rolled around, Tsai gave her speech indoors instead and the event was a far low-key affair than expected. The Tsai administration’s patience may have run out.
The indigenous occupation on Ketagalan Boulevard was in demonstration of the Tsai administration’s failure to return indigenous traditional territories. While president Tsai Ing-Wen made a historic apology to Taiwanese indigenous on behalf of the ROC government and made steps to return indigenous territories, the draft proposal put forward by the Council of Indigenous Peoples to restore traditional lands did not include lands which are privately owned. As a result, 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.
Many indigenous groups see this as a betrayal of the promises of the Tsai administration to better the conditions of Taiwanese indigenous and to ensure that indigenous culture is not further violated by the ROC government. But, interestingly enough, the clearing of the indigenous occupation comes at a time in which the idea of restoring all traditional territories to indigenous seemed to be gaining some headway in legislature.
The occupation before its dismantling. Photo credit: Brian Hioe
Apart from calls from the pan-Green New Power Party for discussion of a bill to restore indigenous traditional lands, a number of pan-Blue lawmakers including Non-Partisan Solidarity Union legislator May Chin and Sufin Siluko of the KMT cited the need to discuss the traditional territories issue, which slated for further discussion at an extraordinary session of legislature later this month. Although members of the pan-Blue camp can be accused of latching onto the issue in order to oppose the DPP, seeing as the KMT has also had a long history of oppressing Taiwanese indigenous, this does not change that the clearing of the occupation comes at a time in which the issue seems to be gaining traction in legislature. Nor does this diminish the validity of the calls for justice of indigenous legislators, regardless of which political camp they are a part of.
In particular, apart from that the heavy rain provided convenient timing to clear the occupation, the timing of the occupation clearing also comes at a similar timeframe to the delivery of the completed draft bill on traditional lands by the Council of Indigenous Peoples. And so it is also possible that the DPP wishes for the issue to go away as soon as possible, so the DPP can move onto other matters, and this is why police have taken such decisive action.
That much is unknown. Yet it remains up in the air as to how the issue is to be settled and how justice for Taiwanese indigenous is to be realized, never mind claims by the DPP administration that transitional justice in Taiwan is to be realized for all, inclusive of Taiwanese indigenous.