The Tribal Peoples Speak
(Ed. note: The story above was shared by tribal representatives
at the inaugural General Assembly of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact [AIPP], April-May
1992, Bangkok, Thailand.)
Taiwan ; Burma ; Thailand ; Philippines
The Story of the Aborigines of Taiwan
by the Alliance of Taiwan Aborigines
The ancestors of our indigenous civilization were the original owners
of Taiwan. Each tribe had its traditional territory, language, customs and sense of
nationality as well as self- dependent economy, self-governed politics and self-sufficient
social system. Since 1624, however, other peoples and governments have been gradually
invading Taiwan, taking over indigenous peoples land and stealing their resources
without indigenous peoples consent nor without concluding any treaties. Afterwards
the indigenous peoples have been governed by colonial authorities.
The National Assemblymen elected on Dec. 12, 1991, were elected by the
people of Taiwan. The meeting of the National Assembly that will take place in 1992 is the
first time in history that the indigenous peoples can participate in writing the national
Constitution. At this very moment, the question of whether the Constitution should be
redrawn or amended is still being disputed. We consider the Constitution of the Republic
of China established in China totally irrelevant to the indigenous peoples of Taiwan, for
it does not provide any protection to the identity and rights of indigenous peoples.
Therefore, we advocate the establishment of a new Constitution that will protect the
indigenous peoples and other minority groups in Taiwan. tribes throughout the history of
Taiwan, the trend of protection offered to indigenous people by the constitutions of
advanced countries and the indigenous peoples human rights standards of the United
Nations, we would demand the provisions listed below for indigenous peoples in the future
Constitution of Taiwan.
The Ami, Taya, Paiwan, Rukai, Bunun, Piaoma, Taroko, Tsou, Saisiat,
Yami, Thao and Pingpu are the indigenous tribes of Taiwan.
The group rights and sovereignty of indigenous peoples should be
protected. The politics, land, economy, education, culture and all the related policies
and affairs of indigenous peoples should be decided by indigenous peoples themselves.
The central government should establish an organization especially
responsible for the administration of indigenous peoples with its chief being an
indigenous person. According to their traditional territories, each indigenous tribe
should establish an autonomic assembly and an autonomic government. Each tribe should also
elect representatives and organize a National Indigenous Peoples Assembly to carry out the
autonomic right of indigenous peoples. All the autonomic assemblies, autonomic government
organizations and precincts and the organization of the National Indigenous Peoples
Assembly shall be governed by law.
The National Assembly shall provide protected seats for
representatives from each indigenous tribe. Assemblymen representing indigenous peoples
shall establish the Indigenous Peoples Committee. All of the laws and resolutions related
to indigenous peoples adopted by the National Assembly must first win the consent of the
Indigenous Peoples Committee. The laws and resolutions applicable exclusively to
indigenous peoples shall be entitled to a referendum of the indigenous peoples. The laws
and resolutions applicable only to specific indigenous groups shall be entitled to a
referendum of the specific indigenous groups.
The Story of the Tribal Peoples of Burma
A. The Arakans
There are eight major ethnic groups in Burma, namely: Arakan (Rakhine),
Burman, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Kareni, Mon and Shan. Nearly half of the entire population of
41 million are Burman.
All of the ethnic peoples, together with a portion of the Burmese
people, have been fighting against successive governments for as long as 44 years. The
indigenous peoples, without the Burmans, formed their united front in 1976.
Arakanese people live in a narrow strip on the western coast of Burma.
Recorded Arakanese history begins in 2666 B.C. There have been nine dynasties - the last
one known as the Dhannyawadi Third Era (A.D. 1404-1784) was destroyed by a Burmese king
named Bodaw- Phaya. Thus, from 1784 to 1825, the Arakan were ruled by Burmese kings; from
1825 to 1942 by the British colonial government; from 1942 to 1945 by the Japanese; from
1945 to 1948 by the British again: and from 1948 to the present by various Burmese
The Arakanese began their struggle in 1948. They were comprised of many
different groups - some leftists and some rightists - who could not unite together. Based
on the status of indigenous The present Arakanese population is estimated at four million,
70% of whom are Buddhists. A few are Christians, and the others are Muslims.
Although Buddhists and Christians are indigenous peoples, the N4uslims
are not. Some Muslims have been living in Arakan for more than 1,000 years, but there are
also many immigrants who came during the rule of the British (1825- 1948), during the rule
of the democratically elected government (1948-1962) and those who came after the 1962
Many Muslims were allowed into the area by the elected government
(1948-1962) in order to counterbalance the Arakanese people who opposed the government of
that era. Thus, the Muslim problem became a dangerous package which could be ignited by
any dishonest group any time they wished.
Last year the Arakanese people, in cooperation with the Karens of
eastern Burma, prepared to step up their struggle. Faced with this potential threat and
also with demoralization and factional conflict within its ranks, the military junta, the
State Law and Order Restoration Council or SLORC, sent tens of thousands of troops to
Arakan and pushed the Muslims out of their homes, thereby, hoping to neutralize the ethnic
Arakans. Most of the Arakanese people, however, could see the true intentions of the
SLORC. Thus, the Arakanese people are still carrying on their struggle for democracy. At
the same time, they are now trying to get a compromise solution with the Muslims,
convincing them that the most urgent task of all peoples is to form a new government. The
aspiration of the Arakanese and other ethnic groups is to establish a federal union in
which the ethnic peoples can enjoy their right to self-determination.
B. The Karens
In 1988, tens of thousands of Burmese citizens took to the streets in
protest against the countrys 26 years of military rule. The military ruthlessly
suppressed the peoples aspiration for democracy by shooting the demonstrators with
automatic combat weapons. Students, children and Buddhist monks were among those killed.
The number of people killed may be as high as 10,000. The killings were followed by
arbitrary arrests, imprisonment without trials, torture and extrajudicial executions. The
level of violence of these incidents by democratic and civilized world standards was
almost unprecedented in the world.
Worse yet has been the situation of the indigenous peoples of Burma,
totally unknown and unheard of by the worlds community. These people have been
oppressed and persecuted by the successive governments of Burma. They are being
systematically annihilated by authorities who hold fast to Burman chauvinism. They are
being Burmanized and assimilated into Burman culture. Physically, more than a million of
the indigenous peoples of Burma were executed by those in power during the 44 years of
post-independence history of the country.
Most historians and anthropologists on Burma have agreed that the Karen
nation was the first community of settlers in the country that is today known as Burma or
Myanmar. (Burma is the name of the country in English, and the Burman call it Myanmar. By
renaming the country "Myanmar" and the name of some cities, such as the capital
from Rangoon in English to "Yangon," and "Karen" to "Kayin"
in the Burman language, the authorities are trying to further Burmanize the indigenous
peoples of the country.)
Burma did not exist until the early 19th century. Historically, the
different ethnic nationals had their own administrative systems or kingdoms. Wars of
domination existed among the Burman Kingdom, Shan Kingdom, Mon Kingdom, Arakan Kingdom and
other nationals throughout history. One of the indigenous people that suffered the most
from these struggles for power were the Karens. The peace-loving indigenous Karens were
driven from their fertile lands in the basins of the Irrawaddy, Sittang and Salween rivers
to the highland hills and deep forests.
When Britain colonized the region in the early 19th century, these
separate nations were grouped together, and the country was named Burma. The country was
granted independence in 1948. The first Constitution of the country promised the
indigenous peoples the right to self-determination. However, the promise was broken, and
the Constitution was abolished in 1962 following a military coup.
Today the more than seven million Karens are deprived of their land.
The Burmese soldiers occupy their land. The Burman and some puppet Karens govern the Karen
population according to rules and regulations promulgated in Rangoon. Their national
resources, the teak forests and precious below-ground treasures are being sold to foreign
countries without their consent. With the profit from the raping of the Karens
treasures, the countrys authorities buy war weapons and annihilate the Karens with
them. Since January 1992, the Burmese army has deployed more than 30,000 troops to quench
the Karens aspiration for their national rights. The Burmese soldiers have deployed
a scorched-earth policy in which Karen villages have been unearthed, villagers arrested,
tortured and executed, women raped and properti~s looted.
The Karens as a nation have their own history, culture, language and
literature. During the British administration of Burma from 1825 to the 1940s, teachers
were encouraged to teach the Karen language in the public schools, and newspapers,
journals and books in the Karen language were freely circulated. When Burma gained
independence in 1948, the Burman language was made the official language of the country.
The Karen language as well as the languages of other indigenous peoples of the country
were not allowed to be taught in public schools, and literature in indigenous languages
were curtailed. Indigenous children were forced to learn the Burman language, and they
were made to feel ashamed to speak their native languages in public. The result was that
most of the indigenous children that grew up in cities could hardly speak their own native
tongue, let alone read and write it. When in 1988 students fled to the countrys
liberated areas controlled by the Karens, many of them were Karen youth. Less than 10% of
them were able to speak the Karen language. One of the most effective means of killing a
nation is to deny their children the right to read, write and speak their mother tongue.
That is what the authorities are doing to the Karens and other indigenous people of Burma.
The Story of the Hill Tribes of Thailand
by Tuenjai Deetes Hill Area Development Foundation (HADF)
The Thai hill tribe people face several major problems. The lack of
land rights and citizenship are serious obstacles to sustainable development. The rapidly
degrading environment (erosion, soil fertility, deforestation) means that the people are
no longer self-sufficient in food. Among some of the hill tribe people, opium addiction
leads to apathy and an inability to work for the future.
Unless the environment is ensured and managed sustainably, in five
years it will no longer be possible to live and farm in the hills. Viable methods of soil
conservation and soil improvement are being adopted by an increasing number of hill tribe
people. If the government could assist with community forest efforts, such as providing
fruit trees, this would be more beneficial than current programs which focus on the
large-scale planting of trees which are not useful to the villagers.
The granting of land rights is essential in order to ensure sustainable
development in the hills. These rights could perhaps be given to the village to manage
communally rather than to individuals. Citizenship is also essential in order for them to
be able to travel, learn and seek basic services, such as health care.
Many of the problems facing the hill tribe people are problems that are
common to villages throughout the country. Decisions affecting the rural people and their
local natural resources are usually made by outsiders. People do not have a say in how
quickly modernization will come to their villages; road and electricity arrive based on
the governments timetable, whether or not the people want and are prepared for these
changes. The introduction of a cash economy and the mass media often lead to increased
environmental destruction, for example, the felling of the forest in order to plant cash
The process of modernization also means that cultural diversity is
being overwhelmed by a standardized urban culture. It is essential that the cultural
diversity of ethnic groups be valued and supported and that any changes be determined and
controlled by the local people themselves.
The Story of the Indigenous Peoples of the
by Pablo Santos
National Federation of Indigenous Peoples of the Philippines
It is important that indigenous peoples achieve unity not only in their
home country but also in our home region of Asia. This becomes more urgent and significant
as we consider the changes that have taken place and that are presently happening in other
parts of the globe. Foremost are the changes that have befallen the U.S.S.R.. which leaves
the United States as the sole global power in the world today. This gives the United
States more than enough room to focus its attention on the plunder and exploitation of
resources that are largely in the Third World - Asia -. our countries. And when we talk of
our specific countries, these are largely in indigenous peoples areas, ancestral
domains and territories.
It is not always easy to see the United States tentacles sucking
the remaining resources of our countries, but we see it through its different instruments:
the World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (JMF) and through many less obvious
The Philippines, wallowing as it is in its external debt, is pushed
even further to grant concessions to the IMF-WBs demands. This means, among other
things, opening indigenous peoples areas to foreign investors for mining, logging,
plantations and ranches. To complement all of these activities and to attract even more
investment, the Philippine government has to ensure energy generation, water supply, low
paid workers and other incentives at the expense of its own people.
Thus, in the Philippines today, and specifically in indigenous
peoples areas, we witness open pit mining in Benguet Province in the northern
Philippines where mountains are bulldozed and flattened to extract the remaining gold ore
in the area. We witness the mushrooming of so-called development projects - the
Mt. Apo geothermal plant in Mindanao, the Agus hydroelectric dam in Lanao Province in the
lands of our Muslim brothers and sisters and the plan to operate the Bataan nuclear plant.
As of 1991, we have counted 20 major so-called development projects,
either by our government or jointly with other governments and world financing
institutions, to cater to the needs and interests of foreign and local elite investors and
profit rakers that are at various levels of implementation.
These range from geothermal plants, dam projects, industrial tree
plantations. commercial reforestation programs and various business ventures, such as
logging, ranching, fruit plantations and coal, gold or copper mining.
And if these projects alone are not enough to deprive the indigenous
peoples of their land and resources, the government employs the military to back them up
in the implementation of these projects. The military, it has been said many times, is
used either to protect their business interests from peoples protests or even as a
prelude to the entry of corporations and other business undertakings within the areas of
the indigenous peoples.
In a span of nine months (January to September 1991), the following
data shows that:
There were almost 15,000 families who became internal refugees of
which 6,500 families belong to indigenous communities;
Twenty-five cases of the 36 recorded cases of displacement involved
indigenous peoples; and
Sixteen out of the 21 provinces affected by the governments
total war policy are populated by indigenous peoples.
All these - the guns and bullets, bombs and mortars, the so- called
development projects plundering and exploiting the remaining resources in our home
countries - extract a heavy toll among the poor. We have always believed that these
projects only.add to the burden of the already indebted citizenry because the financing of
these projects leads to a never-ending cycle of making loans and granting concessions to
financial institutions and foreign governments.
We also know that these projects have a greater effect on indigenous
peoples because they are implemented in areas that for us is a source of our livelihood,
our identity and, in fact, of our life itself. These projects have caused our dislocation
and displacement; and as much as we try to protect the environment, these projects have
caused massive environmental destruction.
In its latest bid, the Philippine government also co-opted our culture,
appointing their own community leaders and heads, using our sacred rituals to legitimize
their entry into our areas and in implementing their projects which are largely rejected
by the supposed beneficiaries. This was done in the case of the Mt. Apo geothermal plant
when even the head of the government-owned corporation setting up the geothermal plant was
accorded the highest rank in the tribe and baptized as a "datu" or
chieftain. This was supposed to counter the dayandi or blood pact instituted in
1989 by tribes opposing the project.
With all of these threats and the actual displacement and violation of
our right to our land and resources, we have nothing but unity to shield us. We have to
speak with one voice. We have to act in concert.
We have high hopes that the Philippine Indigenous Peoples Agenda on
Ancestral Domain and Self-determination, which was just passed at our organizations
congress and which to us is a living statement of our aspirations, will more strongly bind
us together as we face not only the threats but every opportunity that comes to us. We
have resolved to enrich this agenda in the course of our struggles.
We have high hopes from this inaugural assembly of AIPP to learn from
each others experiences and struggles. We believe that, though shapes and colors
vary, the same forces are oppressing and exploiting us. We believe that AIPP can speak and
act as one for the indigenous peoples of Asia. The time is now.