Court finds process for Indigenous recognition unconstitutional
Taipei, Oct. 28 (CNA) The Constitutional Court on Friday ruled that legal provisions invoked to reject applications by members of Indigenous Pingpu tribe for formal Indigenous status were unconstitutional, and it ordered new rules to be drafted to address the issue.
The case stemmed from a lawsuit filed by 100 activists with the Siraya tribe, the largest group of Pingpu tribes, against the Council of Indigenous Peoples (CIP) with the Taipei High Administrative Court in 2012 that ended up before the Constitutional Court in 2020.
Members of the Siraya and other Pingpu tribes had repeatedly appealed to the CIP for tribal recognition, but their requests were denied based on existing laws that required official registration by their members in the 1950s and 1960s.
The Constitutional Court ruled Friday that those laws were unconstitutional and that all Austronesian peoples, of which the Pingpu are a branch, shall be granted constitutionally protected Indigenous status, with a caveat.
The court said that for individuals to be given Indigenous status, the groups they belonged to had to be officially recognized, which requires that three criteria be met, according to a court statement.
For a tribe to be recognized, it has to continue to practice its ethnic languages, customs, traditions and culture, tribe members shall share a common sense of ethnic identity, and the tribe's ties to Austronesian peoples can be substantiated by historical data, the statement said.
In its ruling, the court also ordered the CIP and related agencies to review the criteria for recognizing Indigenous status for individuals under the legal system and address the issue within three years of its ruling.
The provisions found unconstitutional by the court were Article 2 of the Status Act For Indigenous Peoples and its subsequent bylaws, which the court said conflicted with constitutional articles for the protections of Indigenous Peoples' rights, the statement said.
According to those laws, people could only be given Indigenous status if they met certain criteria, including one that they or their forebearers applied for the status with local household offices in 1956, 1957, 1959 or 1963.
Few Pingpus registered their status, though there is no consensus on why that was the case, meaning that under existing laws Pingpu individuals have been unable to obtain official Indigenous status.
In general, the CIP has opposed granting Pingpu tribes constitutionally protected Indigenous status, but it did draft a proposal to legally recognize their history and preserve their culture.
At a hearing held by the court in June, CIP chief Icyang Parod said there were "big differences" between the recognized Indigenous Peoples and the Pingpu Peoples in terms of the degree of assimilation into Han society and culture and their exposure to socioeconomic disadvantages.
If Pingpu tribes were given Indigenous status, the rights of the Indigenous Peoples would be greatly affected, Icyang Parod argued at the time.
Official recognition of the Pingpu has been controversial because of their high degree of assimilation with Han society, as opposed to many of the recognized tribes that have traditionally lived in more isolated mountainous areas.
The size of the Pingpu population is also a source of controversy.
According to Icyang Parod, there are about 980,000 people of Pingpu descent, accounting for about 4 percent of Taiwan's population.
That number is also about 400,000 more than the estimated 580,000 Indigenous people in Taiwan with legal Indigenous status.
The estimate was disputed by some Pingpu activists.
In an oped run by the Liberty Times in June, anthropologist Alak Akatuang of the Siraya tribe, said the CIP inflated the estimate to drum up fears among Indigenous peoples that granting Pingpu tribes official status would crowd out resources designated for these groups.
He estimated the population of members of Pingpu tribes to be somewhere between 200,000 and 260,000.
Pingpu Peoples are roughly divided into nine tribes -- the Siraya, Kavalan, Ketagalan, Taokas, Pazeh, Papora, Babuza, Hoanya and Makatau. The Kavalan are the only group with official Indigenous status, according to the CIP.
The 16 recognized Indigenous tribes are: Amis, Atayal, Paiwan, Bunun, Pinuyumayan, Rukai, Tsou, Saisiyat, Yami, Thao, Kavalan, Truku, Sakizaya, Sediq, Hla'alua and Kanakanavu.
Indigenous people are entitled to certain privileges under the legal system, including reserved seats in the Legislature and lower levels of representative bodies and preferential treatment for school admissions, civil servants exams and scholarship applications.
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