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Hualien Aborigines Fight to Recover Land

      For twenty-six years, the Truku (also called Taroko) aborigines in Hualien's Hsiu-lin Township had not been able to use their land. This is because since 1973, their land have been leased to the Asia Cement for a period of twenty years. Their consent was reluctantly given, partly because the town's administration office and Asia Cement had threatened and lied to them, saying that if they did not agree to lease the land to Asia Cement the land will soon be confiscated by the government without a penny in compensation. Therefore the aborigines, fearful of losing their land, leased it to the cement company.

      At the time of the lease, the Hsiu Lin Trukus were told by Asia Cement and the town administration office that when the lease expires the land will be returned to them. But this has not happened when the lease expired in 1995. Instead, early in the year the aboriginal owners received a court order asking them to appear in court, to have their
rights to cultivate their land removed permanently. Shocked and full of apprehension, the owners looked into the matter.

      It turned out that, unbeknownst to the original owners, their town administration office and Asia Cement had tried, when negotiating for the lease of their land, to remove all their rights to their land by forging some documents. If the plan had succeeded, it would have meant that the aboriginal owners had lost their land permanently, and the cement
company would have permanent use of the land. However, a part of the document was missing, and the cement company never got total control of the land. This did not bar the company from building fences around the land it supposedly had leased, and keeping the rightful owners out. In addition, the cement company never paid any rent to the owners, any money it paid out went to the town administration office. This also
means, legally, that the company did not rent the land. Without their land, some owners were forced to find means of livelihood in other towns, while those who stayed survived on very little, some living on the brink of starvation.

    It is no surprise, then, when the court order came, the owners were extremely upset and hurt. Together they have formed a 'Return My Land/Anti-Asia Cement Action Group', and held protests, including one outside the courthouse the day of the court appearance.

      After receiving a petition from the action group which explained the injustices in the case filed against them, the Aboriginal Affairs Committee of the Provincial Government, the plaintiff named in the case, has decided to give four months of extension to the aboriginal landowners and try to find ways to settle the case satisfactorily. The
government's Aboriginal Affairs Committee said it had not known the full history of the case before being asked by Hsiulin town office and Asia Cement to sue the landowners. If the land does not belong to Asia Cement, the committee said, it will drop the suit and seek ways to return the land to its aboriginal owners.

      The Return My Land Committee is worried that, because the cement company is rich and has many political connections, it may not be easy, or it may take a long time, to get their land back. Therefore the committee is asking for support from people concerned with justice for the aborigines and lawyers who are knowledgeable about aboriginal land laws, to help them. The committee said, since land belonging to aborigines in Taiwan are disappearing year by year, every little bit that can still be preserved is important, especially because the land of the aborigines belong not to any individual but to the group and to their ancestors, which by tradition are to be passed down to their children. Thus for the sake of preserving their identity and culture the Trukus will fight with their life to get back their land. (2447)

This article is from the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan's Occasional Bulletin at: Aborigines Fight to Recover Land

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