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Asia Minute: Taiwan’s President Apologizes to Indigenous People

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The president of Taiwan has been in office for less than three months. But she has already made history—not only as the first woman president of Taiwan, but also for an apology she made this week to the indigenous people of the island. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan apologized Monday for what she called the “pain and mistreatment” the indigenous people of the island have suffered for four centuries.  Speaking to representatives of 16 tribes gathered at the presidential palace, she called the official apology “a beginning”—adding that “for the past 400 years, each regime that came to Taiwan has brutally violated indigenous people’s existing rights.”  That would include not only mainland Chinese, but also, starting in the 1600’s, the Dutch.

Japan occupied the island from 1895 until the end of the Second World War…and nationalist Chinese fled to Taiwan in 1949.  In the years after the war, Taiwan’s government banned indigenous languages…and tried to assimilate native groups into the broader population.

Those groups now make up about 2% of Taiwan’s population.  Government figures show they face higher levels of unemployment and average wages about 40% lower than the general population.

President Tsai spoke of native issues during her campaign…and plans to introduce legislation to give indigenous groups more autonomy, and to restore their culture.  The president’s paternal grandmother was from an indigenous tribe…making her not only Taiwan’s first woman president but also its leader with native heritage.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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