Indigenous territories in Taiwan

Despite President Tsai Ing-wen’s apology to the indigenous peoples in August last year, indigenous rights still have a long way to go in Taiwan. In February this year, the Council of Indigenous Peoples (CIP) started drafting regulations on defining traditional indigenous territories. These territories expand from current indigenous reserved territories, and are meant to include territories occupied by tribes before foreign invasions.

As most of Taiwan’s current population resides on the western side of the island, the current discussion is only on the 16 government-recognized tribes, who mostly reside on the eastern part of the island and in the Central Mountain Range. Surveys conducted by the CIP during 2002-2007 suggested that traditional indigenous territories are about 180 hectares, or ~50% of Taiwan. The draft CIP created this year, however, only included 80 hectares, as it excluded private properties and land owned by the government and its agencies, most of which were obtained through force and deceit in the last century.  

Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.

UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

In 1999, then presidential candidate Chen Shui-bian (who won the 2000 presidential election) signed a treaty-like document with representatives from the indigenous peoples, promising the following:

  1. Recognizing the inherent sovereignty of Taiwan’s Indigenous Peoples
  2. Promoting autonomy for Indigenous Peoples
  3. Concluding a land treaty with Taiwan’s Indigenous Peoples
  4. Reinstating traditional names of Indigenous communities and natural landmarks
  5. Recovering traditional territories of Indigenous communities and Peoples
  6. Recovering use of traditional natural resources and furthering the development of self-determination
  7. Providing legislative (parliamentary) representation for each Indigenous People

The document later became the official indigenous policy for the DPP government. President Tsai Ing-wen now chairs the DPP and is expected to deliver on these promises.

The indigenous peoples are seeking the right to decide how traditional territories and resources are being utilized, a right that has been ignored and abused by the government and developers. However, the CIP draft does not grant tribes that right, and officials have not heed to requests by indigenous groups to reconsider. Rights groups have camped on Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office since February 23 this year to protest the draft.

Interested in learning more about indigenous issues in Taiwan? Take a look at Mata Taiwan!


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