TAIPEI - Taiwan's new indigenous affairs chief vowed to push policies to promote the well-being of Taiwanese aboriginals and a better understanding among young aboriginals of their heritage and culture.
Mayaw Dongi, minister of the Cabinet-level Council of Indigenous Peoples (CIP), told The China Post during a recent interview that for decades, aboriginal people have faced a wide range of disadvantages in Taiwan.
Most of the indigenous people live in remote mountainous and rural areas, and therefore they have less working opportunities as people who live in the cities, the CIP minister said. Because of this, most of them choose to leave their tribes to seek jobs in cities.
Statistics show that there are currently 530,000 indigenous people in Taiwan and nearly half of them are living in cities instead of their hometowns in rural areas, he noted.
Mayaw Dongi, who was sworn in as the new CIP chief this August, said the CIP has for years pushed a series of measures to promote the well-being of these native Taiwanese.
Education and Jobs Top Priority
These measures and policies are mainly aimed at providing indigenous children in rural areas with high-quality education, offering job opportunities for indigenous people as well as fostering industries with competitive edges and potentials.
The 64-year-old Mayaw Dongi, who was born and raised in an eastern Taitung County Amis tribe, said he understands deeply how important education is to indigenous children.
"Only with proper education can children in the tribes learn the skills and gain the knowledge they need to excel in our highly competitive society," he noted.
Another main task for the CIP is to help Taiwanese aboriginals find jobs. The average unemployment rate for Taiwanese indigenous people is around 4.9 per cent, which is slightly higher than the average rate which stands at 4.1 per cent.
"We are hoping that with our latest policy, we can boost employment and lower the unemployment rate of our people," he said.
As a concrete move to increase job opportunities, the CIP has decided to launch measures fostering industries with competitive edges and potentials in indigenous tribes so that people don't have to leave their homes and seek jobs in the cities.
The CIP has chosen the coffee industry for indigenous tribes in Southern Taiwan and vegetables and fruits in Northern and Western Taiwan as industries with competitive edges and potentials.
While in Eastern Taiwan, known for its beautiful sea view, the CIP has chosen tourism as the main focus for indigenous tribes to invest in, he noted.
Preserve Aboriginal Dialects and Heritage with Courses
Other than improving the living standard for aboriginals, Mayaw Dongi said another main focus for his council is to promote better understanding of their cultural heritage among the younger generation of indigenous people.
As more youths leave their tribes, it is important to raise their awareness as aboriginal people, the minister noted. To this end, the CIP has been offering courses to teach indigenous children their mother tongues, he noted.
"Since ordinary school will not teach indigenous children their aboriginal dialects, the CIP has been launching the so-called "tribe schools" during summer and winter vacations with selected tribes," he added.
The schools are taught by the elderly in the tribes, offering language lessons and other courses with the aim to pass down the wisdom of the older generation to the young, the minister said.
Mayaw Dongi said these courses have proven successful.
When he joined festival activities held by his tribesmen in Taitung this year, he found that more and more younger people of his tribe were able to speak the Amis dialect after attending these government-funded courses.
The CIP minister said he also found that more indigenous youths are returning to their tribes to attend major festivals, which is a good sign that they are embracing their identity.
He welcomes all, not just indigenous people, to participate in aboriginal tribes' harvest festivals and traditional ritual events, and to learn more about Taiwanese indigenous cultures