Focus: Bringing Home the Seeds of Indigenous Autonomy
The Council of Indigenous Peoples held the 13th Taiwan Indigenous Students Cultural Exchange Program (TISCEP) this year. The destination was the Vancouver region in Canada's most western province - British Columbia. eRenlai's mother organisation, the Taipei Ricci Institute was the organising committee. In contrast with previous years, the students had a more central role, submitting a proposal for the goals and program of the exchange trip. In eRenlai's December Focus we will bring you accounts of the trip from the students who took part, along with a mini-documentary in eight parts, which documents their journey from start to finish..
We begin with an interview with the director of the Council of Indigenous Peoples (CIP), Ta-chuan Sun, in which he expresses the need for reform of Indigenous cultural industries, and sets out a mission for future generations of indigenous peoples in Taiwan. Responding to the CIP's call for applications, thirteen Indigenous students from Taiwan came together as a team in a quest for knowledge and experience that could be used to improve the situation of indigenous peoples in Taiwan. As they prepared to fly into an unknown world, the students were full of anticipation, nervousness and gratitude for this once in a lifetime opportunity, which would hopefully lay the foundations for a new chapter in the history of their peoples.
The students divided themselves into four groups, each tasked with engaging with an issue of great importance to aboriginal people: Autonomy, Health, Education and Media & Cultural Enterprise. Insights into these four issues allowed them to focus on various aspects of the decision-making processes behind policy formation, social engagement and cultural heritage. Each group was tasked with engaging with various organisations they would be visiting in Canada, in an effort to glean as much knowledge as possible from the short trip. Canada is often considered a world leader when it comes to dealing with indigenous affairs and there are over two hundred First Nation's tribes and 37 languages in British Columbia alone, making Canada an ideal place to learn about the interaction between governments, settlers and indigenous peoples.
Piho Yuhaw, was one of the student leaders who was involved in writing the groups project proposal, here he gave his final thoughts on the exchange and his personal goals for the future:
"I think the East could learn from the West and its experiences with autonomy. The Eastern discourse views self-government as ‘seperationist’ or ‘splittist’, while in the West they see it as national or ethnic ‘self determination’. In the future, as an Indigenous scholar, I would like to reinterpret aboriginal cultural research through a new native lens. It will be a long and difficult road, but to quote Dr. Bruce Miller “The indigenous movement needs to be put into practice, even when you have nothing”. Looking at the indigenous struggle and indigenous empowerment from a historical perspective, something has always come from nothing - this is called practice."
Photo 1: Yubax Hayung
Photo 2: C. Phiv
Change is in the Air, Twenty Golden Years
From the 1990s, the concept of multiculturalism gradually took shape, as Taiwan amended its constitution and underwent social changes. 1996 saw the establishment of the Council of Indigenous Peoples, in accordance with the constitution, and with an integrated administrative body, which led progressively to the formation of a legal and political framework for indigenous peoples.
To those of us in our fifties and sixties, maintaining our indigenous cultural practices was an important responsibility, as we had experienced tribal life, had attended traditional rituals and could still talk to the elder generation in our native tongues. I absorbed myself in aboriginal literature, as well as investigating and translating traditional indigenous rites, taking advantage of my own reserves of knowledge on traditional practices, in the hope of preserving it for the indigenous peoples to come in the next 50 years. It was my fervent wish that aboriginal children 50 years from now would be different from my generation, struggling to follow in the footsteps of their ancestors due to a lack of information about their past.
Lighting the Kindling to Weld a New Perspective on the World
The organization of the 'Taiwan Indigenous Students Cultural Exchange Program' was an experimental attempt to encourage younger people to better themselves. The program was aimed essentially at broadening the horizons of young aboriginal people, meeting with people with a similar historical experience to us, and allowing for comparison of policy and strategies that perhaps Taiwan can learn from, as well as sharing the unique innovations that we have to offer the world. The program was planned over the course of the last few years in cooperation with other bodies, but the result was not quite what aboriginal youths had hoped for, therefore, this year the program was changed substantially, the students themselves put forth a proposal, and designed their own agenda for the visit, with groups formed from different schools.
This was a breakthrough, on the one hand it increased the participation of the young people in the program, and on the other it made them responsible for their own choices. The advocacy and responsibility of participants had to be balanced somewhat, as young people tend to plan that which they are used to, so we couldn't expect them to come back with a broader global perspective in that instance.
Ploughing Deeply, to Cultivate Cultural Soil
A lot of problems are often not simply indigenous problems. Indigenous industry is an example of this; it doesn't function in and of itself, but rather follows mainstream society. It is perhaps possible to think outside the box on this issue, and hand over responsibility for conservation and forestry over to indigenous peoples. If there was a budgetary consideration to train indigenous peoples to change the focus of their industries to conservation and forestry, restoring stability to the environment, then this would be, at least from the aboriginal point of view, a great step forward.
If these principles were to be clearly adhered to, indigenous industry, in terms of ecology, culture and existentialist concerns, would be greatly benefitted. We have to find certain industries which would engage in dialogue with contemporary society and not just doggedly attempt to keep up with mainstream culture. I believe this is the right path.
By Ta-Chuan Sun, edited by Raining Be, translated from the Chinese by Conor Stuart
Photo by Yuanxi Chuang
Video filmed by Yuanxi Chuang, edited by Nicholas Coulson, subtitled by Conor Stuart
For readers in Mainland China:
U'mista Cultural Centre, Alert Bay, Vancouver Island
The U'mista Cultural Centre, founded in 1980 was a project to house 'potlatch' artefacts which had been seized by the government during an earlier period of cultural repression. The return of the potlatch artefacts provided the name of the centre - U'mista's or 'the return of something important', and provided the motivation behind the creation of a physical facility and Tsalala dance troupe. U'mista's operations include the running of a modern museum and cultural education facility, an extensive art gallery and gift shop, group tours, and presentations by dance troupes.
The group spent a whole day on this beautiful island at the mouth of U’mista centre, where they saw the remains of a Canadian Residential School, a legacy from the days when the Canadian government was attempting to educate and conform the Indians to European cultural standards, religion and way of life After a few of the students took a ceremonial dip in the freezing saltwater we were taken to the ceremonial house of gathering where the students observed and shared traditional dance performances with the Tasala dance troupe. This process learnt about their respective cultures...but also to further know themselves through the eyes of the other.
For readers in China:
Filmed by C. Phiv and D. Chen, edited by C. Phiv, subtitled by Adrienne Chu
Photos by C. Phiv
Centre for Aboriginal Health Research (CAHR), University of Victoria, Victoria City, Vancouver Island
The University of Victoria (UVic) is a research intensive university considered a leader in Indigenous and cultural studies, with strong ties between Indigenous communities and researchers from a diverse range of disciplines. Established in 2008 the Centre for Aboriginal Health Research is dedicated to promoting and engaging in health research, in partnership with Aboriginal peoples (locally and globally), to improve their health. It is now a leading authority worldwide on Aboriginal health that is searching for a 'global lens on Aboriginal health', which made this visit all the more worthwhile. It was an excellent opportunity to find out more about Canada's Aboriginal health issues, and by comparing their problems, research and problem-solving methods with Taiwan's, to see how the issues were interlinked for Indigenous peoples all over the world. and what policies could be initiated to combat these problems.
When we arrived at CAHR we were greeted by researchers and several doctoral candidates. The director, first introduced the overarching missions of the centre, before the researchers introduced their personal research and discoveries in areas such as: suicide rates in different Indigenous communities, bringing together traditional Indigenous healing methods, western healthcare and the links between a healthy cultural heritage and healthy people in different tribes.
Filmed by Cerise Phiv, edited by Nick Coulson, subtitled by Adrienne Chu
For readers in Mainland China:
Photo by C. Phiv
Duncan City Hall, Duncan, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island
We were all stunned when Duncan City Mayor, Phil Kent, personally opened the door to the City Hall for us and even further when Phil, Councillor Joe Thorne and a Federal representative, took the afternoon off work to take us around the the small city, giving us the local folklore and joining for lunch us to continue the days discussions.
During the presentation and discussion, our group was able to learn much about Government-First Nation relations in the past and how they are changing now to right the wrongs of history. City councillor Joe Thorne, is the First Nations representative on the council he explained how they initiate inter-community dialogue for more positive working interactions. We also discovered that Duncan was an experimental ground for deliberative, participative democracy with the doors open to the public for city council meetings, a fact that strengthened the voice of an often underrepresented group.
For readers in Mainland China:
Filmed and edited by Cerise Phiv, subtitled by Vica Zhuhan
"From what we saw in Canada, I felt that compared to Taiwan’s Indigenous people, the First Nations had a much stronger self-awareness and recognition than us. That’s not to say that no one is concerned about us in Taiwan, however if you’re Indigenous and live in a city, what do you have to symbolise that there are Indigenous peoples living there? There is some awareness in Taiwan, however when you compare it to Duncan City it is very weak. This raises the question once more, are Taiwan’s Aboriginals being fully respected. When we talk of ourselves in Taiwan, is it not as if we are talking about foreigners?"
Utun Titi (Department of Indigenous Languages and Communication, National Dong Hwa University, Taroko Nation)
Photo by S. Hsueh
Klahowya Village, Stanley Park, Vancouver City
After spending the morning sightseeing around Vancouver City, at the Queen Elizabeth Park, Chinatown and the pinnacle of western welfare states in action at less well-to-do end of East Hastings, we then moved on to the first major cultural exchange in our trip. Stanley Park covers 400 hectares of evergreen land close to downtown Vancouver. During the summer months from May to September the Vancouver Park Board has transformed a part of Stanley Park into an Aboriginal summer village, the Klahowya Village Park, a vibrant cultural experience of song, dance, art and cuisine. They offer storytelling, spirit catching train rides, two daily dance performances, Aboriginal cuisine and daily cultural tours including specific ‘Nations days’. There are also crafts, with artisans working on-site doing woodcarving and weaving, which you can have a go at making yourself or buy from their store. This setup was particularly relevant to the Taiwanese students exploring cultural enterprise as a way of reaching financial autonomy, a necessary condition of long-term political autonomy. We hoped to take this opportunity to understand how Klahowya village uses ecological tourism and cultural enterprise to initiate cultural revival and also provide jobs for local aborigines, in a way that is respectful to their traditions and people.
"We began our journey at Klahowya Village, Stanley Park, where we witnessed the collaboration between the First Nations and the government on a cultural enterprise project of sustainable management and promotion. From May to September every year, Klahowya Village becomes a small tribe with the aims of cultural preservation and promotion. We were lucky to experience one of their exorcism ceremonies, a village train ride and to take part in a traditional dance dialogue. The exorcism ceremony, in which ash and leaves are waved over the body, was very similar to that of the Amis’ culture."
Ibu Isliduan (Department of Indigenous Languages and Communication, National Dong Hwa University, Bunon Nation)
"Not being able to say “No” to others is a weakness. We compromise easily, thus our life, studies and even culture are taken advantage of by others. In Klahowya Village, after an elder shared his music and dance, one journalist came to ask him to do it again. He refused and said, “Culture is not a tool of marketing nor consumption, is our dignity.”"
Takun Neka (Department of Public Affairs, Ming Chuan University, Atayal Nation)
For readers in Mainland China:
Video filmed by Cerise Phiv and Diane Chen, edited by Cerise Phiv and Nick Coulson, subtitled by Yen-ching Chu
Photo courtesy of Laurent Vu-The
University of British Columbia, Department of Anthropology, Vancouver
A long-serving professor of Anthropology, Dr Bruce Miller, has huge experience in World Aboriginal affairs. He first gave a presentation on the history and development of First Nation struggle in Canada, before extending to examples of Indigenous struggles elsewhere in the world including Brazil, the US and Papua New Guinea. After leading into discussion he gave advice on the repertoire of tools available for advancing Indigenous empowerment. He emphasized the importance of manipulating the laws available to them, but also the adoption of various tactics to advance the cause, such as the 'politics of embarrassment'. For Bruce Miller, most important of all was that regardless of how much resources they had was to begin putting ideas into practice immediately, taking action now to create the future for themselves and their people.
For readers in Mainland China:
"For me, the UBC Department of Anthropology was the most exciting part of the trip. In a very short time, Dr. Bruce Miller gave us an understanding of the history of the First Nations struggle in Canada, and used his experience and observations to evoke discussion of certain focal points with us students. He listened to our questions and his reply was always a message of encouragement. For example, he urged us to use movement tactics such as the ‘politics of embarrassment’ to force the governments into making decisions rather than just suffering injustices and then pleading with the government that they empower the Indigenous people. What he was telling us was that power doesn’t come without a struggle. You must be ready and willing to take action.
Piho Yuhaw (Department of Ethnology, National Chengchi University, Atayal Nation)
First Nations House of Learning, University of British Columbia, Vancouver
Education is a question right at the centre of the various global Indigenous movements and one of the students four focal groups. Apart from introducing the centres specific role in improving Aboriginal education, Rick Ouellet and Debra Martel also introduced to us how the Canadian education system worked for Indigenous peoples and what policies and projects had been successful. For example, British Columbia was the first province to make it a requirement that all teachers took courses in Indigenous studies. One area which the centre is working towards is in trying to reach a situation where people who acquire degrees, can go back to their communities after their education and still find a job.
"The House of Aboriginal Learning at UBC was full of Indigenous feeling in its architecture and interior. As a student of Taiwan’s first college of Indigenous studies, I noticed we only have one stone slab representing aboriginality at the institute, I felt we could also increase the aboriginal feel of the building by including art installations, to make ourselves truly ‘visible’."
Utun Titi (Department of Indigenous Languages and Communications, National Dong Hwa University, Taroko Nation)
For readers in Mainland China:
Video filmed by C. Phiv and D. Chen, edited by N. Coulson, subtitled by Adrienne Chu
Photos by C. Phiv
Museum of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver
After receiving the lecture at the Department of Anthropology, we were guided through the Museum of Anthropology, founded in 1949, which houses over 38 000 ethnographic objects. Of particular interest to our students is that MOA is a world leader in collecting Aboriginal artefacts and there are approximately 6,000 objects from B.C's First Nations in MOA's collections, from totem poles, to canoes and carved boxes, bowls, and feast dishes. Furthermore the museum has an innovative storing methods and interactive software and hardware allowing one to explore the collections from the touch-screen computer or from the Internet. Visiting the MOA was an excellent opportunity for us to see how they run the museum to inspire curiosity, understanding and respect of other world cultures, while promoting innovation and inclusiveness. With the historical and anthropological background it was also a chance for our troupe to explore and share the similarities and differences between their Indigenous cultures.
For readers in Mainland China:
Filmed by C. Phiv, edited by Nick Coulson, subtitled by Adrienne Chu
Photos: Shuching Hsueh
Victoria Aboriginal Friendship Centre (VAFC), Victoria City, Vancouver Island
The Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre Society is a charitable welfare organisation with a specific mission to support the needs of 'Aboriginal people making a transition to the urban community. It aims to be holistic and cultural, providing social services; support in health, education and recreation, family support and maintenance of traditional values. Since Taiwan also has a significant urban Aborigine population, this was also an excellent chance for our students to see how successful the First Nations people have been in reconciling their dual identities in the city? Are the urban aborigines maintaining and even reviving their culture in this global city? How extensive was the support compared to that in Taiwan?
Filmed and edited by C. Phiv, subtitled by Vica Zhuhan
Photos: Top: Richard Chen Down: Shu-ching Hsueh
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