On December 4, President Tsai Ing-wen convened and presided over the 20th meeting of the Presidential Office Indigenous Historical Justice and Transitional Justice Committee, where she was accompanied by Vice President Lai Ching-te, who attended the one-and-a-half-hour meeting as deputy convener.
Meeting participants began by reviewing the minutes of the 19th meeting of the committee. The third-term chair of the Subcommittee on Reconciliation and Vice Minister of Culture Hsu Yi-chun (徐宜君) and chair of the Subcommittee on History and Deputy Minister of Education Lio Mon-chi (劉孟奇) delivered progress reports on the work of their respective subcommittees as well as reports on what they plan to work on moving forward.
During the meeting, Committee Member Syamen Womzas (夏曼威廉斯), representative of the Yami/Tao tribe, mentioned the damage recently caused by Typhoon Koinu on Orchid Island and the issue of reconstruction. Icyang Parod, executive secretary of the committee and minister of the Council of Indigenous Peoples, responded that since Typhoon Koinu passed through, Executive Yuan Secretary-General Li Meng-yen (李孟諺) has periodically called inter-ministerial meetings to hear progress reports on reconstruction work. Regarding the repair of damaged housing, the issue that most concerns the Yami people of Orchid Island, the minister said that the Executive Yuan has approved over NT$160 million in subsidies for housing repairs for nearly 700 local home owners, each of whom is eligible to receive up to NT$220,000 in subsidies. The minister added that the Council of Indigenous Peoples will also disburse funds via the Taitung County Government so it can distribute the money to township government offices to fund home repairs. As many of the traditional tatala boats of the Tao people were damaged or lost due to the typhoon, the minister said, the Council of Indigenous Peoples will also set aside special funds to provide assistance.
In response, Vice President Lai, presiding in lieu of President Tsai, said that the president was very concerned about the impact of Typhoon Koinu on the lives of the people on Orchid Island. Many central government agencies – including the Ministry of the Interior, Council of Indigenous Peoples, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Health and Welfare, Ministry of Environment, Public Construction Commission, National Development Council, and the Taiwan Power Company – are actively participating in and assisting with the reconstruction effort on Orchid Island. In addition, he said, Taiwan Power Company will spend NT$1 billion to move all of the island's power cables underground. The vice president said he hopes Committee Member Syamen Womzas will continue to tell the government about the problems they face, and that they will use this platform to keep engaging in dialogue.
Vice President Lai said he hopes the current reconstruction work will help revitalize Orchid Island and make it a smart and green island where culture and technology coexist with traditional and modern civilization. He said he believes that, while reconstruction is a fundamental undertaking that must proceed, we must also have a vision that reaches higher and farther, that is, we must think about how Orchid Island can become an Orchid Island for Taiwan, and even for the world.
Vice President Lai issued several directives on behalf of President Tsai Ing-wen. First, he thanked the Subcommittee on Reconciliation for its outstanding results in recording cultural heritage, recreating historical sites, and researching traditional knowledge. The vice president also noted that the subcommittee had provided guidance to various local indigenous cultural centers in their curation of five exhibits this year. He said that the subcommittee's work has enabled many members of the general public to learn about, understand, and develop a greater respect for indigenous cultures.
Vice President Lai noted that the efforts of the Subcommittee on History have resulted in indigenous historical perspectives being presented in educational curricula, and the subcommittee's findings have been used in the education of those who teach indigenous transitional justice. Also, the subcommittee has conducted studies of major historical incidents, investigating and rectifying omissions. The vice president thanked colleagues from the various government agencies and private-sector groups for helping foster in the nation's citizens a more diverse historical perspective, and for demonstrating the richness of Taiwan's culture.
Vice President Lai said that after the efforts of these past few years, more people have acquired a deeper understanding of the meaning of indigenous historical justice and transitional justice. He added that more and more people are coming to understand the concept of ethnic mainstreaming.
Vice President Lai said he believes that consultations take place between the government and the indigenous peoples on an equal footing not only at meetings of the committee, but also through many other types of interactions and dialogues as well as in the course of government policymaking procedures. He said that this enables policies and laws and regulations to more closely address the viewpoints and needs of indigenous peoples while accelerating the pace of reconciliation between the state and indigenous peoples.
Vice President Lai noted that President Tsai, in her opening remarks, had announced that the term of office for the members of the third-term committee had been extended to May 20, 2024. He said that President Tsai also asked the Council of Indigenous Peoples, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Culture, and other government agencies to continue cooperating closely to construct a discourse with respect to indigenous history to preserve indigenous education and cultures. He expressed hope that everyone will work together to ensure that indigenous history can manifest itself, whole and intact, within our society, and that Taiwan will keep moving toward the goals of equality, justice, reconciliation, and mutual well-being.
In his closing remarks, Vice President Lai said he was very pleased to have the opportunity to help the president promote transitional justice for indigenous peoples, and that he was also pleased to be able to resolve several issues at this meeting. As a past member of the Legislative Yuan, he said, he had strongly supported passage of the Indigenous Peoples Basic Law, and during his time as premier he regularly presided over these committee meetings in accordance with that law, working with the representatives of the various indigenous peoples to implement the intent and the various work items of that law. And now, said the vice president, he is helping the president promote transitional justice for indigenous peoples in hopes of ensuring that people of all ethnicities can live in dignity, equality, and freedom in Taiwan.
Vice President Lai pointed out that the indigenous peoples of Taiwan belong to the Austronesian language family, as everyone knows, so no individual or ethnic group should be regarded as somehow isolated from the others. He said that Taiwan's Pingpu ethnic groups are a branch of the Austronesian-speaking peoples, and that Taiwan Constitutional Court (TCC) judgment No. 17 clearly ruled that the Siraya people are indigenous. The vice president expressed hope that the Council of Indigenous Peoples can step up to ensure that the Siraya people enjoy the same respect as other indigenous peoples, and live with the same dignity that others enjoy here in Taiwan.
Vice President Lai further stated that regardless of whether it is a meeting of the committee presided over by President Tsai, or any of various meetings on indigenous affairs that he presided over during his tenure as premier, such occasions have been more than just an opportunity to apologize to the indigenous peoples or restore their rights. He said that beyond that, the government has a responsibility to implement policies related to the indigenous peoples because the nation belongs to them as much as it does to the people of any other ethnic groups.
Vice President Lai emphasized that the committee, beyond pursuing a range of undertakings designed to achieve transitional justice and reconciliation, also has a higher objective, which is to respect and affirm the indigenous peoples. In other words, he said, the government intends to ensure that the indigenous peoples can see hope for themselves on this land, and will make even bigger contributions to Taiwan. The vice president then called for us all to continue striving toward this objective.