Taipei, Taiwan

Avai Yata’uyungana was simply 12 when the troopers dragged his father away to be executed.

Greater than 70 years later, he remembers that feeling of helplessness, confusion and worry as if it had been yesterday.

“On that day, the army surrounded our household dwelling,” recalled the retired schoolteacher, age 83. “The county Justice of the Peace got here to our village and informed everybody that my father was engaged in corruption. (After they shot him) rumors unfold in regards to the allegations in opposition to him and my household went into hardship.”

His father Uyongu was a frontrunner of the Tsou, one among Taiwan’s Indigenous tribes, and among the many 1000’s of islanders arrested within the years following the top of the Chinese language Civil Battle and charged with collaborating with Mao Zedong’s Communist Get together.

On the time, fears about Communist affect on the island had been at their top; Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists had solely just lately arrange a authorities in exile there after being pushed out of the Chinese language mainland by Mao’s forces. Paranoia was excessive and the fledgling administration noticed native leaders as a possible risk to their grip on energy.

However Uyongu’s actual “crime” was not that he had collaborated with the Communists – a cost Taiwan’s authorities posthumously cleared him of in 2020. His actual offense was that he had been lobbying for better autonomy for the island’s authentic inhabitants.

After centuries of migration by ethnic Han from China and a 50-year occupation by Japan, the island’s Indigenous tribes had discovered themselves marginalized in their very own native lands and hoped that the brand new administration can be open to a brand new method.

General Chiang Kai-Shek, the leader of the Nationalists or Kuomintang.

“My father and different leaders knew that Indigenous peoples had been colonized and suppressed,” mentioned Avai. “They hoped that with the arrival of (the brand new Nationalist authorities), they’d be capable to change our destiny.”

That hope was to show fatally misjudged, because the Nationalist or Kuomintang authorities quickly established a status for authoritarian rule and a coverage of instilling “Chinese language-ness” into the native inhabitants.

On February 28, 1947 – in what was to grow to be referred to as the “228 Incident” – the Kuomintang ruthlessly suppressed a preferred revolt sparked by anger over official corruption.

It then embarked upon a brutal four-decade crackdown on political dissent underneath one of many longest intervals of martial regulation the world has ever seen.

As we speak, Taiwan’s authorities estimates that between 18,000 and 28,000 folks misplaced their lives in that crackdown, referred to as the “White Terror”. Uyongu and plenty of different Indigenous leaders had been amongst them.

Uyongu Yata'uyungana with his family members in 1945.

Quick ahead seven many years, and the dynamic driving relations between Taiwan’s authorities and its Indigenous communities has been remodeled.

Not are these communities considered with suspicion as potential sympathizers with the mainland’s Communist authorities.

If something, say consultants like Tibusungu ‘e Vayayana, a professor in Indigenous research at Nationwide Taiwan Regular College, Taiwan society now views Indigenous communities as a bulwark in opposition to Beijing’s territorial ambitions (the Communist Get together continues to assert Taiwan as its personal, regardless of by no means having managed it, and has repeatedly refused to rule out the usage of drive in “reunifying” with it).

The thought is comparatively easy: What higher strategy to exhibit to the worldwide group Taiwan’s distinct id, its separateness to mainland China, than the existence of native populations stretching again 1000’s of years, they are saying.

“To spotlight the individuality of Taiwan from China, the ethnic Han inhabitants in Taiwan at the moment are emphasizing Indigenous cultures and are paying increasingly more consideration to it,” Vayayana mentioned.

Ku Heng-chan, a analysis fellow in Indigenous research at Taiwan’s Academia Sinica, mentioned a turning level within the mindset of mainstream society got here within the Nineteen Seventies, when large-scale pro-democracy protests broke out.

“The professional-democracy motion was preventing in opposition to the Nationalist Chinese language regime (in Taipei), and so they wished to search for distinct traits that represented the Taiwanese id,” Ku mentioned.

“In fact, Taiwan’s Indigenous teams gave it essentially the most legitimacy, and so it additionally gave rise to subsequent Indigenous rights actions within the Eighties.”

Celebrations in central Taipei after the establishment of the Council of Indigenous Peoples on December 10, 1996.

Alongside this rising recognition of its Indigenous inhabitants got here growing efforts at reconciliation by the federal government, which culminated in in Taipei’s first formal apology to the Indigenous communities in 2016.

“For 400 years, each regime that has come to Taiwan has brutally violated the rights of Indigenous peoples by way of armed invasion and land seizure,” mentioned President Tsai Ing-wen in a public deal with. “For this, I apologize to the Indigenous peoples on behalf of the federal government.”

Tibusungu 'e Vayayana, also known as Wang Ming-huey,  teaches indigenous studies at National Taiwan Normal University.

Since then Taiwan has moved to formally acknowledge Indigenous languages, permitting group members to register their names with Roman characters (versus Chinese language characters) on official paperwork. It has put aside seats within the legislature for Indigenous representatives and supplied preferential therapy in college entrance exams. August 1 is now celebrated as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Final yr Taipei doubled its supply of compensation to the households of individuals killed in the course of the authoritarian period to $390,000 (NT$12 million).

Avai Yata'uyungana.

Such developments have introduced hope to folks like Avai, who final month made the 200 kilometer (124 mile) journey to Taipei from his dwelling in Chiayi county to assert the cash.

Nonetheless, most consultants say true equality stays far off.

The federal government at the moment acknowledges 16 Indigenous teams with a mixed inhabitants of about 580,000, or about 2.5% of Taiwan’s inhabitants of 23.5 million.

Anthropologists say these teams have linguistic and genetic ties to Austronesian peoples, who’re scattered throughout Southeast Asian international locations together with the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Their conflicts with the ethnic Han, who originate in China, date again to the primary waves of Han migration within the seventeenth century.

Over a interval of tons of of years the Indigenous teams misplaced management over swaths of land and progressively retreated to extra distant areas, mentioned Professor Vayayana, whose Tsou tribe established themselves close to central Taiwan’s Alishan Mountain, an space that right now is well-liked with vacationers.

However the conflicts weren’t solely with the Han. The Tsou and different tribes additionally suffered underneath the Japanese, who took management of Taiwan in 1895 and dominated the island for 5 many years earlier than relinquishing it within the aftermath of World Battle II.

Certainly, it was throughout this era, in 1908, that Uyongu was born.

A high scholar, Uyongu was among the many few in his folks to obtain a tertiary schooling. Proficient in Japanese, he turned a frontrunner in his tribe and was elected township chief after Japan handed Taiwan to the Nationalists in 1945.

Uyongu Yata'uyungana graduates from primary school.

It was that prime profile that had each emboldened Uyongu to talk out – and marked him out as a goal for the Kuomintang.

“When the Nationalist authorities first came visiting, they wished to eliminate Indigenous folks with the sharpest minds. Its regime had failed in mainland China, and so they had been anxious about resistance in Taiwan,” Avai mentioned.

Whereas in jail, Uyongu started writing letters to his household – phrases that might be collected and printed by his son many years later. His final letter, written to his spouse simply months earlier than he was executed in 1954, included this line: “The reality of my wrongful offense shall be revealed sooner or later.”

As Uyongu had foresaw, issues wouldn’t all the time be so bleak for Taiwan’s Indigenous folks peoples, although the suppression of native identities by the hands of the Kuomintang was to endure for many years but.

Amongst its numerous measures had been a coverage that banned the usage of any language apart from Mandarin Chinese language in colleges and one other requiring all Indigenous folks to undertake a Chinese language identify – Uyongu’s Chinese language identify was Kao Yi-sheng, whereas Vayayana’s was Wang Ming-huey.

Authorities even secretly positioned radioactive waste on Lanyu, an outlying island inhabited by a native tribe, with out their information for many years – a transfer that Tsai additionally apologized for on behalf of the federal government.

It was not till the Nationalist authorities lifted martial regulation in 1987 and the island transitioned to democracy, after many years of efforts by civil rights campaigners, that issues actually started to alter.

With the appearance of free elections – the island’s first direct presidential vote got here in 1992, an Indigenous rights motion impressed partially by Uyongu and others like him turned emboldened sufficient as soon as once more to name for better freedoms.

Icyang Parod (first from right) takes part in a protest for indigenous rights.

Amongst these main the cost was Icyang Parod, a politician and member of the Amis tribe who now serves because the minister of Taiwan’s Council of Indigenous Peoples.

Within the late Eighties, Icyang led protests geared toward “releasing the Indigenous peoples from oppression” – actions for which he would later serve eight months in jail.

Amongst his calls for was to have the derogatory time period “shan pao” (“mountain compatriots”) struck from the structure and changed with “Indigenous peoples.”

He additionally campaigned for the institution of a ministry-level physique that represents Indigenous rights – a council he now serves on as minister.

“We advocated that the rights of Indigenous peoples needs to be written into our structure,” Icyang mentioned. “After greater than a decade of campaigning, we had been capable of push for constitutional amendments, and now there’s a clearer safety for our language, schooling and land rights.”

As we speak, Avai feels “reduction” that his father’s legacy is gaining recognition.

“When Indigenous peoples started preventing for the return of our ancestral homelands and better autonomy, they realized that these beliefs had been advocated for by my father,” he mentioned. “Our household was lastly capable of maintain our heads up.”

Kolas Yotaka, a 48-year-old politician from the Amis tribe whose great-grandfather was additionally jailed in the course of the White Terror, is amongst those that had been impressed by Uyongu.

Kolas Yotaka, left, in her role as a government spokesperson, with Administrative councilor Kung Ming-hsin in Taipei on February 2, 2020.

In 2015, Kolas turned a member of the Democratic Progressive Get together, and took on numerous governmental roles following the social gathering’s victory over the Kuomintang within the following yr’s basic election. In 2020, she turned the primary Indigenous particular person to be appointed as presidential spokeswoman – a second she hopes will encourage others.

“I deal with myself as a continuation of the Indigenous motion. Each job title that I’ve held, I hope they let folks know that Indigenous peoples have limitless potential, and that no one can restrain us by a glass ceiling,” Kolas informed CNN.

Nonetheless, like many others, she believes a lot work stays to be carried out. Whereas operating for mayor in jap Hualien county final yr, some folks informed her they wouldn’t vote for an Indigenous particular person.

“I believe Indigenous communities nonetheless have their very own fears and nervousness,” Kolas added. “My mother and father used to inform me to not communicate our native language in city areas to keep away from being seemed down upon. Many people might really feel we will’t obtain sure issues in life merely due to our id.”

Icyang, in the meantime, nonetheless receives experiences of discrimination within the labor market. Amongst his fundamental focuses now’s making an attempt to protect the 42 Indigenous languages – 10 of that are thought-about “endangered” – by lobbying for them to be taught from kindergarten and inspiring households to talk them at dwelling.

“I hope that increasingly more folks from the Indigenous group will understand that self-identity is essential, and they’re going to really feel pleased with being an Indigenous Taiwanese,” Icyang mentioned.

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