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President Tsai apologizes to indigenous peoples on behalf of government
President Tsai apologizes to indigenous peoples on behalf of government

President Tsai Ing-wen apologized on the morning of August 1 to the indigenous peoples on behalf of the government.

Beginning at 9:30 on the morning of August 1 outside the Main Entrance to the Presidential Office Building, a shouting ritual was held to symbolize that the indigenous peoples' representatives taking part in the activity had come in a spirit of goodwill. A bundle of millet stalks was also lit to guide the ancestral spirits to the ceremony. President Tsai appeared at the Main Entrance to receive the participants and lead them into the Presidential Office Building. An apology ceremony was then held in the Ching-kuo Hall. The ceremony began with a traditional prayer rite of the Bunun tribe. Ms. Hudas Haitang (胡金娘), an elderly member of the tribe, sprinkled drops of alcohol so that the ancestral spirits would recognize the president and the ceremony would proceed smoothly. This was followed by a joint prayer offering by clergy members from a number of different faiths, who asked for the deities and the ancestral spirits to witness this historic moment together.

After the prayers, the president issued an official apology (full text):

On this day 22 years ago, the term "shanbao" (mountain people) in the Additional Articles of our Constitution was replaced with the proper name: "indigenous people". This correction not only did away with a discriminatory term, but also highlighted the status of indigenous peoples as Taiwan's "original owners".

From this basis, 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. For the four centuries of pain and mistreatment you have endured, I apologize to you on behalf of the government.

I know that even now, there are some around us who see no need to apologize. But that is the most important reason why I am representing the government to issue this apology today. To see what was unfair in the past as a matter of course, or to treat the pain of other ethnic peoples as an unavoidable part of human development, this is the first mindset that we, standing here today, resolve to change and overturn.

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.

The success of one ethnic people can be built on the suffering of another. Unless we deny that we are a country of justice, we must face up to this history. We must tell the truth. And then, most importantly, the government must genuinely reflect on this past. This is why I stand here today.

There is a book called "The General History of Taiwan" published in 1920. In its foreword are these words: "Taiwan had no history. The Dutch pioneered it, the Koxinga Kingdom built it, and the Qing Empire managed it." This is a typical Han view of history. The truth is that indigenous peoples have been here for thousands of years, with rich culture and wisdom that have been passed down through generations. But we only know to write history from the perspective of the dominant. For this, I apologize to the indigenous peoples on behalf of the government.

The Dutch and the Koxinga Kingdom massacred and exploited the Pingpu ethnic group. The Qing Empire presided over bloody confrontations and suppression. Colonial Japan put in place comprehensive savage policies. And the post-war ROC government undertook assimilation policies. For 400 years, every regime that has come to Taiwan has brutally violated the rights of indigenous peoples through armed invasion and land seizure. For this, I apologize to the indigenous peoples on behalf of the government.

Indigenous peoples maintain tribal order according to traditional customs, and ecological balance according to traditional wisdom. But in the process of modern state-building, indigenous peoples lost the right to steer their own course and govern their own affairs. The fabric of traditional societies was torn apart, and the collective rights of peoples were not recognized. For this, I apologize to the indigenous peoples on behalf of the government.

Indigenous peoples had their own languages. However, with Japanese rule aiming to assimilate and turn all into imperial subjects, and with the ROC government banning tribal languages after 1945, indigenous peoples' languages suffered great losses. Most Pingpu languages have disappeared. Successive governments have been negligent in the protection of indigenous cultures. For this, I apologize to the indigenous peoples on behalf of the government.

Without the knowledge of the Yami tribe, the government stored nuclear waste on Orchid Island. Tribe members on the island had to suffer the negative consequences. For this, I apologize to the Yami people on behalf of the government.

Ever since outsiders began arriving in Taiwan, the Pingpu ethnic group on the western plains have born the brunt of the impact. One ruling power after another eroded the individual and collective identities of the Pingpu ethnic group. For this, I apologize to the Pingpu ethnic group on behalf of the government.

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. However, government agencies have not given sufficient weight to this law. Our actions have not been fast enough, comprehensive enough or sound enough. For this, I apologize to the indigenous peoples on behalf of the government.

Taiwan is known as a culturally diverse society. But even today, indicators on health, education, economic livelihood, political participation and more still show gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. Meanwhile, stereotypes and even discrimination against indigenous peoples have not gone away. The government has not done enough, so indigenous peoples have suffered pain and frustration unknown to other ethnic peoples. For this, I apologize to the indigenous peoples on behalf of the government.

Our efforts have fallen short, and succeeding generations have been blind to this inadequacy. Because of this, your hardship has continued to this day. For this we are truly sorry.

Today's apology is long overdue, but it is a beginning. I do not expect any one speech or phrase of apology to wipe away four centuries of pain and suffering by the indigenous peoples. But I do hope with all my heart that today's apology will set this country and all its people on the path towards reconciliation.

Please allow me to shed light on this occasion with a piece of indigenous wisdom. In the Atayal language, truth is called "Balay", and reconciliation is called "Sbalay", so you simply add an "S" sound to "Balay". Truth and reconciliation are in fact two related concepts. In other words, only by facing the truth sincerely can reconciliation be attained.

In indigenous cultures, when a tribe member has offended another and intends to reconcile, an elder brings together the offender and the offended – not to produce a direct apology, but to allow each side to frankly share their inner journeys. When this truth-telling concludes, the elder calls for everyone to drink together, so that what is past is truly past. This is "Sbalay".

I hope today's occasion can be a "Sbalay" between the government and the indigenous peoples. I have spoken of past mistakes and truths the best I can, with nothing held back. In a moment, our indigenous friends will speak. I do not dare ask you to forgive, here and now. But I sincerely ask you to sustain the hope that past wrongs will not be repeated, and that one day, this country can see true reconciliation.

Today is only a beginning. The duty for reconciliation lies not with the indigenous peoples and the Pingpu ethnic group, but with the government. I know that words of apology alone are not enough. What we actually do for the indigenous peoples will decide whether reconciliation succeeds or stumbles.

Therefore, I am here to announce that we are setting up an Indigenous Historical Justice and Transitional Justice Committee under the Presidential Office. As the head of state, I will serve as convener and work hand in hand with tribal representatives to pursue historical justice. We will also discuss, on the basis of equality, the future policy direction of this country.

I want to stress that this committee places the greatest importance on equality between the country and the indigenous peoples. The election of tribal representatives, including for the Pingpu ethnic group, will take as basis the consensus of peoples and tribes. This committee will serve as a mechanism for collective decision-making by indigenous peoples, and will ensure that the voices of tribe members find true expression.

In addition, I will request that our Executive Yuan convene regularly the Indigenous Peoples Basic Law Promotion Committee, and use the Yuan's authority to coordinate and handle matters related to any consensus reached by the above-mentioned committee. These matters include the following: to retrieve historical memories, to promote indigenous self-government, to seek fair economic development, to ensure continuation of culture and education, to safeguard indigenous health, and to protect the rights of urban indigenous peoples, etc.

Where modern laws and indigenous traditional cultures are at odds, we will set up an Indigenous Legal Service Center with a high degree of cultural sensitivity, to reduce through institutional design the growing clashes between indigenous customs and modern laws.

I will ask the relevant agencies to immediately pull together cases in which indigenous community members have been indicted or sentenced for hunting, where the hunting was done in accordance with traditional customs, on traditional lands, and for non-transactional needs, and where the animals hunted were not protected by conservation laws. For such cases we will deliberate solutions.

I will also direct relevant agencies to present an investigative report on the decision-making process of nuclear waste storage on Orchid Island. Before finding a permanent solution for the nuclear waste, we will provide the Yami tribe appropriate compensation.

At the same time, under the principle of respecting the Pingpu ethnic group's self-identity, and recognizing their identity, we will examine relevant laws before September 30 of this year, so that Pingpu ethnic group identity will receive the rights and status it deserves.

On November 1 of this year, we will begin to delineate and announce indigenous traditional territories and lands. The system of tribal public corporation is already in place. In the future, the ideals of indigenous self-government will be realized step by step. We will step up the pace and submit for legislative deliberation three acts of great importance to indigenous peoples: the Indigenous Peoples Self-Government Act, the Indigenous Peoples Land and Sea Areas Act, and the Indigenous Languages Development Act.

Later this afternoon, we will convene a national indigenous peoples administrative meeting. In that meeting, the government will elaborate on the policies. On every August 1 to come, the Executive Yuan will report to the indigenous peoples our progress on restoring historical justice and transitional justice. To implement the Indigenous Peoples Basic Law, to serve indigenous historical justice, and to lay the foundation for indigenous self-government – these are the three major goals for the government's policy towards indigenous peoples.

To all of our indigenous friends here and watching on TV and online: I invite you to stand witness. I invite you not to endorse, but to oversee. Please keep pressure on the government and right its course where necessary, so that it will realize its commitments and right historical wrongs.

I want to thank all of our indigenous friends. You remind everyone in this country that there is irreplaceable value in the land we tread on and the traditions we inherit. This value deserves dignity.

In the future, we will push for policies to ensure that succeeding generations of indigenous tribes and all ethnic peoples in Taiwan never lose their languages and memories, that they are never separated from their cultural traditions, and that never again are they lost in a land of their own.

I call upon our entire society to come together and get to know our history, get to know our land, and get to know the cultures of our many ethnic peoples. Let us work towards reconciliation, a shared existence and shared prosperity, and a new future for Taiwan.

I call upon all citizens to seize the opportunities offered by this day – to join together, work hard, and build a country of justice, a country of true diversity and equality.

After the president spoke, a statement was issued by an indigenous leader, Mr. Capen Nganaen, a four-time township councilman and former county council member who lived under both Japanese rule and the ROC government, and who twenty years ago led the movement against storing nuclear waste on Orchid Island. Speaking in his tribal language, Mr. Nganaen said that he was born under Japanese rule, and would be celebrating his 81st birthday in a few days. He is deeply honored to be at the Presidential Office Building and to be a part of this historical moment, with President Tsai issuing an apology to indigenous peoples on behalf of the government. Before this, he said, no president was willing to apologize to the indigenous peoples at an official occasion. Only President Tsai was willing to do so, and he was tremendously moved. Regarding the harmful effects that nuclear waste has had on tribe members on Orchid Island, he hoped that the president and all of us could find a way to remove nuclear waste from the island. Today marks the beginning of reconciliation and harmony, said Mr. Nganaen, who looked forward to the government turning words into reality, so that we can all come to love and help one another, and become a real family.

Finally, the two sides exchanged tokens of good faith. President Tsai first presented the full text of the apology statement to the indigenous peoples' representatives as a show of utmost sincerity toward the indigenous peoples, and to symbolize the government's determination to fulfill its promise to restore the rights they deserve. The indigenous peoples' representatives then presented President Tsai with a bundle of millet, a crop traditionally grown by Taiwan's indigenous peoples. This gift symbolized the hope that the government's stated policy—to shine a light on the true history of the indigenous peoples and to implement transitional justice to redress their grievances—will take root and germinate in the land of Taiwan and yield a bountiful harvest year after year, just as millet does.

Also attending the ceremony to witness this moment were Vice President Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁), Premier Lin Chuan (林全), Judicial Yuan President Rai Hau-min (賴浩敏), Examination Yuan President Wu Jin-lin (伍錦霖), Control Yuan President Chang Po-ya (張博雅), Control Yuan Vice President Sun Ta-chuan (孫大川), Legislative Yuan Secretary-General Lin Jih-Jia (林志嘉), People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), New Power Party Executive Chairman Huang Kuo-Chang (黃國昌), Democratic Progressive Party Secretary-General Hung Yao-fu (洪耀福), Deputy Secretaries-General to the President Liu Chien-sin (劉建忻) and Tseng Hou-jen (曾厚仁), Tuvalu Ambassador to the ROC Minute Alapati Taupo, and ten other ambassadors and representatives stationed in Taiwan.

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