by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: 中部平埔族群青年聯盟/Facebook

RECENT COMMENTS by Icyang Parod, the head of the Council of Indigenous Peoples, took a stance against legally recognizing Pingpu peoples currently seeking recognition as Indigenous. 

The comments took place in the context of a hearing by the Constitutional Court to hear arguments on the recognition of the Siraya people, which took place on Tuesday. 

The hearing involved the Constitutional Court hearing arguments from the Council of Indigenous Peoples, the Tainan city government, and the National Human Rights Commission, which is part of the Control Yuan. The Constitutional Court will make an announcement of its date to publicize its decision on the issue one month from now. 

In particular, the Council of Indigenous Peoples is the defendant in a lawsuit filed by Uma Talavan and 112 other Siraya individuals. The Tainan city government is a stakeholder in the lawsuit as it is where the majority of Siraya live, and it allowed Siraya to apply to register as Indigenous in 2009. However, this was rejected by the Council of Indigenous Peoples. 

Photo credit: 中部平埔族群青年聯盟/Facebook

Pingpu peoples include the Kavalan, Ketagalan, Taokas, Pazeh, Papora, Babuza, Hoanya, and Makatau. On the other hand, groups currently recognized as Indigenous are categorized as either Highland Indigenous and Plains Indigenous, and include the Amis, Atayal, Bunun, Hla’alua, Paiwan, Pinuyumayan, Rukai, Saisiyat, Yami, Thao, Truku, Tsou, Kanakanavu, Kavalan, Sakizaya, and Sediq. 

The estimated number of Pingpu peoples is unclear, though some counts have the number at 980,000, which is around 4% of the Taiwanese population. The reason why the Siraya is fronting the lawsuit likely has to do with the fact that they are the largest Pingpu group without recognition. The Kavalan are a Pingpu group with recognition as Indigenous, but this only applies to individuals that registered within a specific timeframe. Generally speaking, apart from other legal specifications, qualification as Indigenous applies to individuals that registered as Indigenous in 1956, 1957, 1959, or 1963. 

Icyang Parod and the Council of Indigenous Peoples’ rationale for denying Pingpu groups recognition as Indigenous is the claim that because their culture has been assimilated by Han groups for a longer period of time, they should be considered separately from Indigenous groups. The government proposed listing Pingpu peoples as “Pingpu Indigenous people”, as a new category, but this was rejected by Siraya activists. 

This category would have been under the Status Act For Indigenous Peoples, with the government claiming that it would have devoted more resources to Pingpu cultural conservation and revitalization efforts through this framing. Likewise, the lawsuit filed by Uma Talavan and other Siraya takes place after a previous application was denied. 

Video by the Central Taiwan Ping-Pu Indigenous Groups Youth Alliance

There have been divided responses on the issue. Tainan mayor Huang Wei-che has taken a stance against limiting Indigenous recognition to those that registered in specific years. Eight Taitung city council members have taken a stance against Pingpu recognition as Plains Indigenous, saying that this would dilute resources for Indigenous, and instead calling for a new government council to be set up for Indigenous, as exists for Indigenous and Hakka. 

By contrast, the Central Taiwan Ping-Pu Indigenous Groups Youth Alliance and other groups have pointed to the history of campaign from Pingpu peoples since 1990, and argued regarding the issue as one of colonialism, with Pingpu peoples deprived of their names and recognition by multiple colonial regimes through the course of Taiwanese history. 

Likewise, younger Indigenous activists, such as Savungaz Valincinan and the Indigenous Youth Front, have more commonly taken a stance more favorable to Pingpu recognition, putting them at odds with Icyang Parod and other Tsai administration-affiliated Indigenous politicians. Prominent Indigenous public intellectuals such as Awi Mona and Bavaragh Dagalomai have also taken a stance against the denial of recognition for Pingpu peoples, as has the Control Yuan’s National Human Rights Commission. 

One saw similar divides regarding a ruling by the Constitutional Court on April 9th that struck down Article 4, Paragraph 2 of the Status Act for Indigenous Peoples. The article required individuals that are children of marriages between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples to take on an Indigenous last name from a parent in order to qualify for Indigenous legal status. As such, the ruling strengthened the ability of mixed race individuals to claim Indigenous status, affecting an estimated 95,000 people. The ruling gave the government two years to make an amendment to the Status Act for Indigenous People.

Facebook post by Kolas Yotaka

While the decision was welcomed by younger Indigenous activists, Presidential Office spokesperson Kolas Yotaka, speaking in a private capacity, took a stance against the ruling. Their argument was that taking on an Indigenous last name was a required cultural commitment that served as a prerequisite to taking on Indigenous status, or that existing laws were written by Indigenous legislators, a claim which was disputed by younger Indigenous activists such as Savungaz Valincinan. An undercurrent in these arguments from Tsai administration-affiliated Indigenous politicians seems to be the view that there needs to be a sufficiently strong gateway mechanism for parsing out those that claim Indigenous status, probably due to cultural appropriation fears. 

Advocates of the Constitutional Court’s expansion of qualifiers for Indigenous status framed this as restoring rights long deprived to Indigenous individuals, with regards to the broader history in which Indigenous were deprived of their culture or history due to Han colonialism by the ROC state or other colonial regimes in Taiwan. Either way, the Constitutional Court ruling on the manner can be seen as continuing the imposition of colonial legal structures onto Indigenous. 

As with the question of recognition for Pingpu peoples, an undertext of debate was likely fears that expanding Indigenous status would lead state resources for Indigenous to be further diluted. Indeed, the question of resources allocated to Indigenous has long been thorny terrain for Indigenous communities to navigate. This includes, for example, Indigenous language learning requirements as a precondition for preferential admissions treatment, as well as other resources. 

Nevertheless, from the divided reactions between the Council of Indigenous Peoples and other Indigenous activists, one can see political fault lines regarding the possible expansion of Indigenous status. One expects these fault lines to become increasingly prominent as the decision of the Constitutional Court nears and its aftermath. 

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