Taiwan is an island nation off the coast of China that houses 560,000 indigenous peoples — around 2.7% of the entire population. In the 1940s, the Chinese Civil War forced the Republic of China (ROC) to relocate its base to Taiwan, causing 1.4 million people to migrate from the mainland. Prior to this incident, in 1895, Japan defeated the Qing empire for Taiwan in the First Sino-Japanese War. War has ravaged native families and brought thousands of colonists to the country. This decreased the number of aboriginal people and created a divide between the settlers and the indigenous people of Taiwan.
The Reasons Behind Poverty
Due to consistent colonization since the 1600s, the native people of Taiwan (originally Formosa) have faced persistent oppression. Under Dutch rule from 1624 to 1662, the indigenous people of Taiwan had to convert to Christianity. Colonists also recruited them for military services and placed them into strenuous jobs. Japanese soldiers in the early 1900s raped women, illegally took land and enslaved indigenous men. In 1914, the Japanese killed over 10,000 aboriginal inhabitants of the Taroko area, resulting in the major uprising the Wushe Rebellion of 1930.
Oppression and discrimination have quelled the process of native people integrating into modern society. Most of the indigenous people of Taiwan remain below the poverty line. Household incomes of aboriginal families are 40% lower than the national average. A study by an Academia Sinica sociologist surveyed Han people of Taiwan: only 40% of families would let their children marry an aboriginal person while 80% allowed their children to marry another Han person. This is shocking evidence of the prominence of societal discrimination. The Democratic Progressive Party leaders have been heard calling indigenous peoples racial slurs to suppress and insult aboriginal people. Many businesses still refuse to employ aborigines. The problem worsened when an influx of workers from southeast Asian countries came in and competed for traditionally aboriginal jobs.
Natural disasters that often rampage the island consistently annihilate sources of income for indigenous families. Typhoon Morakot, a fatal category 2 typhoon that hit Taiwan in August of 2009, killed 673 people, mostly from aboriginal villages. Landslides and heavy winds destroyed villages and small economies. An earthquake on September 21, 1999 killed over 2,400 people and sent 100,000 people into homelessness.
The Effects of Being in Poverty
Poverty in indigenous communities has hurt their access to education, insurance and healthcare and is exacerbating the inequality gap. In 2013, 10% of aboriginal students dropped out of college. Of those, 12% could not afford to continue their education. Although 90% of aboriginal college students receive a higher-level education at private universities, they tend to be more expensive causing many students to have financial burdens. Despite the 12-year compulsory education system, aboriginal students in rural areas receive a substandard education. Financial struggles prevent 3% of students from enrolling in school. Aboriginal parents often move to the city for work while their children provide for themselves. Sometimes, the oldest sibling drops out to take care of their younger siblings.
According to a survey that professors at the National Taiwan University conducted, 45% of indigenous participants believe that they are least likely to be hired and promoted compared to Han people. The study also found that the indigenous people of Taiwan lack access to social welfare services. This leads to the widening gap of inequality among the rich and poor, as well as between the Han and indigenous people. In 1985, the income gap between the indigenous people and the national average was $3,702 (USD), while in 2006 it increased to $20,006 (USD). Gradual increases in inequality build higher obstacles for indigenous people to conquer.
The Council of Indigenous Peoples (CIP) is a group of ethnically indigenous government individuals, working to improve the life of indigenous people of Taiwan. Recently, CIP initiated the Four-Year Plan to develop a proper social welfare system to protect aboriginal individuals. The government hopes to increase employment by providing internship opportunities to the indigenous youth and creating websites like “Indigenous Job Agency.” The CIP also guides aboriginal businesses, teaching companies how to market, package and sell their products in the metropolitan area. They aim to develop a “sustainable self-sufficient industrial model” in indigenous villages. A self-sufficient model will help businesses survive with the modern market economy and traditional manufacturing skills. CIP also plans to increase healthcare services and protect indigenous rights to bridge the inequality gap.
The Renewal Foundation, a nongovernmental organization devoted to children’s education, is helping bring people out of poverty. The Bunun Tribe’s official website, run by the Bunun Cultural and Educational Foundation and the Bunun Tribal Leisure Farm, aims to develop educational and financial sectors of their own communities.
Taiwanese indigenous communities are gradually rising out of poverty. Recent statistics have shown increasing education rates and income equality. With assistance from the government and other institutions, aboriginal people will preserve their cultural heritage and reintegrate back into society.
– Zoe Chao