by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: 以我的族名呼喚我 Call me by my real name/Facebook

INDIGENOUS ACTIVISTS and their supporters demonstrated outside of the Ministry of the Interior yesterday morning, calling for Indigenous name recognition.

A brief press conference of around a dozen people was held from 9:00 AM to 9:30 AM. Among the speakers present at the event were Savungaz Valincinan, a well-known activist of the Indigenous Youth Front who was active in the Sunflower Movement, National Taiwan University professor Ciwang Teyra, and Shih Yi-hsiang, the secretary-general of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights.

In particular, Indigenous groups were calling for only their romanized names being used on their identity documents, such as national ID cards. Indigenous have been allowed to use their romanized names on their ID cards since 2001, after changes to the Name Act. However, this requires that romanized names be listed alongside Chinese names.

Livestream of the demonstration

Consequently, Indigenous groups have been critical of how identity documents continue colonial policy, in forcing Indigenous to still have Han Chinese names and requiring them for official use. As pointed out by speakers at the event, this often leads to confusion, as well as that individuals in everyday life invariably prioritize using the Chinese-language name over the romanized name. To this extent, speakers pointed to how requiring the use of Chinese-language names reinforces the supremacy and cultural hegemony of Han culture over Indigenous culture, as a form of contemporary cultural colonialism.

Indigenous name recognition is not a new issue in Taiwan, with Indigenous having demonstrated about the issue for decades. The government’s slow action on Indigenous name recognition takes place despite the Tsai administration touting Indigenous culture as a part of broader Taiwanese culture. The issue of Indigenous name recognition, then, touches on larger issues regarding when Indigenous cultural practices are not recognized by the ROC state. 

However, at the press conference yesterday, Indigenous groups sought to highlight how Indigenous naming issues should be a relatively quick issue to fix, if not for continual government inaction. For one, the recent “Salmon Chaos” goes to show how easy it is for individuals to change their names.

The “Salmon Chaos” refers to an event that took place in March of this year, after conveyor belt sushi chain Sushiro began offering discounts or free meals to individuals whose names contained the characters for “Salmon”, or had the exact same characters for “Salmon.” This resulted in a wave of individuals changing their name to “Salmon,” including people that chose names that were over fifty characters long, before changing them back. It only cost 80 NT to change one’s name and this could be done relatively quickly, resulting in the sudden name changes. For Indigenous groups, this was seen as indicating that it could be relatively quick to allow for Indigenous name recognition, except for the government’s disinterest in allowing for Indigenous name recognition.

Sushiro location. Photo credit: Richard, enjoy my life!/Flickr/CC

The name recognition issue proves a particularly sensitive one at this current juncture, in the wake of a ruling last week by the Council of Supreme Justices that found parts of current laws governing hunting to be unconstitutional, but which Indigenous advocates were still dissatisfied with. The ruling struck down current limits that only allow Indigenous to use handmade, front-loading firearms and not modern weapons for hunting, something that Indigenous hunters have criticized as unsafe because many of these firearms are old and difficult to repair. Indigenous will also no longer need to apply five days before setting out to hunt, while specifying what it is that will be hunted—something that Indigenous criticized as violating Indigenous religious practices that view what they hunt as given to them by the gods, as a result of which one cannot know beforehand what will be hunted.

Nevertheless, the ruling still stipulated that Indigenous are not allowed to hunt endangered species or for commercial purposes. Consequently, the ruling was still seen as a colonial imposition regulating Indigenous cultural practices, in that it was seen as maintaining the imposition of ROC law on Indigenous tradition, and maintaining the spirit of existing laws.

It is to be seen whether the Tsai administration can be pushed toward Indigenous name recognition. Though the Tsai administration made a historic apology to Indigenous on behalf of the ROC state in 2016, the Tsai administration has also been criticized for being unwilling to return Indigenous traditional territories, only returning traditional territories that were in public use. While such actions took place early on in the Tsai administration’s tenure, the Tsai administration may be unwilling to take action on Indigenous issues at this juncture, viewing this as rocking the boat.

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