by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Outlookxp/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 4.0

THE PAZEH PEOPLE have applied to become the 17th officially recognized Indigenous group in Taiwan. This is one of a number of applications by Indigenous groups for recognition at present, including by the Kaxabu and Siraya.

The bid for recognition occurs in the wake of a 2022 Constitutional Court ruling in favor of the recognition of the Siraya and other Pingpu groups as “Indigenous.” This reverses a previous ruling by the Taipei High Administrative Court in 2016 against Pingpu recognition and was a rare ruling by the Constitutional Court in which all 15 Grand Justices voted unanimously. New laws will need to be drafted within three years to allow for Siraya and Pingpu recognition, changing the Status Act for Indigenous Peoples.

The Pazeh are, like the Siraya, a Pingpu group. Other Pingpu groups are the Kavalan, Ketagalan, Taokas, Papora, Babuza, Hoanya, and Makatau. 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.

Before the 2022 ruling, the Kavalan were the only Pingpu group that was legally recognized as Indigenous, though this only applied to individuals who registered as Indigenous within a certain timeframe and their descendants. Generally speaking, apart from other legal specifications, qualification as Indigenous applies to individuals who registered as Indigenous in 1956, 1957, 1959, or 1963. It is thought that close to one million people could qualify for Pingpu status once laws change, which is around 4% of Taiwan’s population, though this figure depends on estimates that vary.

Photo credit: Solomon203/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 4.0

As the Siraya are the largest Pingpu group by population, legal efforts by the Siraya have often set precedents for other groups. Though the Siraya’s application for recognition was rejected by the Council of Indigenous Peoples in 2012, a legal case against the decision reached the Constitutional Court in 2020.

Yet one observes that after the 2022 ruling, there has been a new wave of attempts by Pingpu groups to seek official recognition, perhaps testing the waters of the new legal landscape. The landscape for laws on Indigenous recognition has changed in past years, with an April 2022 striking down Article 4, Paragraph 2 of the Status Act for Indigenous Peoples.

The article required individuals who 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. Consequently, the ruling allows for more mixed-race individuals to claim Indigenous status, affecting an estimated 95,000 people. In the wake of the ruling, the government was given a two-year window to change existing laws.

Previously, the Council of Indigenous Peoples proposed creating the status of “Pingpu Indigenous people”, as a new category. It was claimed that more resources would be devoted to cultural preservation efforts under this framework, but this was rejected by Siraya activists. Yet government officials have at times been recalcitrant on the issue of Pingpu recognition. For example, Council of Indigenous Peoples head Icyang Parod was among those to take a stance against Pingpu recognition. Indeed, the pushback against Pingpu recognition is linked to fear of the limited resources provided for Indigenous groups to maintain their culture being further divided through Indigenous recognition. Moreover, there were concerns about individuals with unverified backgrounds being able to claim Indigenous status through an expansion of the criteria for legally qualifying as Indigenous. Such concerns also led to pushback against calls for recognition of mixed-race Indigenous.

It is to be seen how the Pazeh people’s bid for recognition fares, then, with the Council of Indigenous Peoples. More broadly, while issues of unrecognized Indigenous groups occur the world over, this has not widely been discussed in Taiwan. Yet the issue may be a contentious one, even among Indigenous communities, not only with regard to anxieties about limited resources, but the history of cultural appropriation in Taiwan versus cultural hybridity.

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