Dismantling the Indigenous Occupation of 228 Memorial Park

by Brian Hioe

PPhoto credit: Brian Hioe

ABORIGINAL OCCUPATION in 228 Peace Memorial Park was dismantled by Taipei City authorities earlier today. The occupation had lasted more than 1,800 days, or nearly five years.

The main organizers of the occupation were indigenous singer-songwriter Panai Kusui, her husband Istanda Husungan Nabu, also a musician, and documentary filmmaker Mayaw Biho. The occupation called for the return of indigenous traditional territories held in private hands.

Namely, while the Tsai administration promised indigenous communities that it would return indigenous traditional territories once it took office, these were only state-owned traditional territories. About 1,000,000 hectares of land were not returned, while 800,000 hectares of land were. Other issues that Indigenous groups criticized were due to inadequate consultation with Indigenous community members themselves, as they know the boundaries of their lands best.

Indigenous protesters outside the presidential office in 2017. Photo credit: Brian Hioe

As such, there have been many years of protests from indigenous groups who have seen Tsai as breaking his campaign promises. These protests were particularly intense in summer 2017, when the occupation began. The occupation was originally located on Ketagalan Boulevard, but after police eviction efforts, it eventually moved to NTU Hospital MRT station and then to 228 Peace Memorial Park, where she has remained ever since. It should be noted that police actions directed against the occupation have featured large proportions of police to protesters compared to majority Han protests, indicating racially motivated policing.

Indeed, despite Tsai’s historic apology to the Natives on behalf of the ROC State on August 1, 2016, this was protested by indigenous groups. On the one hand, Indigenous groups criticized the fact that the apology took place behind closed doors. Panai herself performed at Tsai’s presidential inauguration, but soon after protested her administration’s policies.

Indigenous groups also criticized the Tsai administration’s promises as lacking in substance, given that while the Tsai administration situated justice efforts for past wrongdoings within the framework of transitional justice, the relevant bodies were primarily focused on research and lacked the power to take concrete legal action. The task force created by the Tsai administration at the time had no budget or permanently appointed members.

Other issues stemmed from incidents in which ROC state restrictions clashed with indigenous cultural practices, such as the Tama Talum incident, involving the persecution of an indigenous hunter for hunting game for his aged and infirm mother. The case reportedly resulted in a three-and-a-half-year jail term for Tama Talum after the Council of Grand Judges decided not to acquit him. He was only prevented from serving a prison term because President Tsai Ing-wen granted him a pardon, as the first pardon of his presidential administration, but that does not change the laws governing native hunting.

Panai Kusui during the occupation in 2017. Photo credit: Brian Hioe

There are other issues regarding lack of recognition of Pingpu groups, and broader socio-economic inequality continues to affect indigenous communities, with disparities in resources compared to urban areas. Stereotypical and prejudiced views about Aboriginal peoples also continue to be pervasive, as evidenced by the performance that preceded Tsai’s inauguration reenacting Taiwanese history, which referred to the natives as having “primitive and uncultivated customs” that required civilization by Western missionaries.

The dismantling of indigenous occupation in 228 Peace Memorial Park is somewhat surprising when Taipei City authorities were otherwise willing to tolerate it for years. In recent years, there have been fewer events organized at the occupation, although some educational activities have continued to take place, and Panai at one time recorded an album on Ketagalan Boulevard. Indigenous activists criticized the actions of the Taipei City government and the administration of Ko Mayor Wen-je, while the Tsai administration had comparatively made more concessions. It is a question of what the administration of the mayor of Ko intended to achieve by dismantling the occupation.

Faced with a threat of eviction from the city government and the police ready to tear down the tent, Panai and other occupation organizers voluntarily dismantled it themselves, this is not the only threat the occupation has faced in recent years. However, while the occupation may be over for now, the issues it raises are far from resolved.

Michael A. Bynum