TAIPEI, Taiwan, Aug. 1 (UPI) — For the first time in the nation’s history, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen issued a formal apology Monday to the indigenous people of Taiwan for their enduring centuries of “pain and mistreatment” at the hands of the country’s power brokers.
Speaking at her presidential office surrounded by aboriginal leaders, Tsai said the nation has made numerous efforts to correct injustices of the past but noted an official apology was necessary.
“Today, we are taking another step forward. To all indigenous peoples of Taiwan: On behalf of the government, I express to you our deepest apology,” the president said. “For the four centuries of pain and mistreatment you have endured, I apologize to you on behalf of the government.”
About 2 percent of Taiwan’s population of 23 million, roughly 540,000, are aborigines whose ancestors first began arriving in the country about 6,000 years ago. Three of about a dozen indigenous groups — the Amis, Atayal and Paiwan — comprise about 70 percent of Taiwan’s native population.
When Chinese Han settlers began arriving in the 17th century, the indigenous people lost their lands and faced oppressive and violent treatment by the new rulers.
“Let me put in simple terms why we are apologizing to the indigenous peoples. Four hundred years ago, there were already people living in Taiwan. These first inhabitants lived their lives and had their own languages, cultures, customs, and domains. But then, without their consent, another group of people arrived on these shores, and in the course of history, took everything from the first inhabitants who, on the land they have known most intimately, became displaced, foreign, non-mainstream, and marginalized,” Tsai added.
“Unless we deny that we are a country of justice, we must face up to this history.”
President Tsai Ing-wen’s apology to the indigenous people of Taiwan (in Chinese) was posted to Facebook Monday.
Tsai said an apology is just a preamble to greater actions. This year, she will lead a commission to address aboriginal injustice and push a law that outlines basic rights for the indigenous people, who typically must cope with lower wages, higher unemployment and inferior access to education.
“After the democratic transition, the country began to respond to the appeals of indigenous movements. The government made certain promises and efforts. Today, we have an Indigenous Peoples Basic Law that is quite advanced,” she said. “However, government agencies have not given sufficient weight to this law. Our actions have not been fast enough, comprehensive enough or sound enough.”
Tsai, who has led Taiwan for only 10 weeks, made it clear in her campaign that she would take steps to apologize and make reparations to the indigenous people. No other Taiwanese leader has ever issued an apology.
“Today’s apology is long overdue, but it is a beginning.”