ALCOHOLGlobally, many indigenous peoples suffer from higher suicide rates than the general population due to colonization, dispossession, discrimination, and culture loss. A 2018 analysis of 30 countries and territories by Canada’s Memorial University found the highest disparities in Canada and Brazil, where suicide rates were 20 times the national averages. In Taiwan, suicide rates among some indigenous groups were six times higher than the rest of the population, it found. “Today, our people face the issue of abusing certain materials, abusing alcohol and drugs,” said Ciwang, who is also a Truku. “It’s because we have been deprived of our own power to cure our own hearts. When alcohol is easily accessible to you, it naturally becomes a tool to alleviate your stress.” Ciwang’s research found that alcohol abuse reduced among Truku, who were able to hunt, weave, and perform traditional rituals in their ancestral mountains. “Our culture can help us cure the historical trauma and bring comfort in the face of discrimination. To have close ties with our land is a way to restore our own health,” she said. Deputy minister Iwan Nawi, who oversees indigenous people’s affairs, said the government has made numerous reforms. Hunting is now allowed in certain areas. The government has also set up an indigenous TV channel and improved education to promote native culture since a 2005 law adopted to recognize indigenous rights. “We have loosened some of the policies … this is a long dialogue,” said Iwan, an indigenous academic-turned-politician from Taiwan’s Sediq tribe, which has 10,000 people.
HEALINGWearing a crown of flowers and a long, flowing dress, Panai Kusui sang at London’s first Taiwan Film Festival of her indigenous community’s loss of land, language, and identity. “When the mountains collapse, the beaches are sold, the wind from ancient times is polluted, human hearts are also contaminated,” she sang, on a break from a sit-in over land rights that she began in 2017 in Taiwan’s capital, Taipei. Panai’s songs, partly sung in her native Puyuma language, have become a symbol of protest and a source of inspiration for the younger generation to re-engage with their culture and take up the land struggle. Despite better recognition, indigenous people are still fighting for greater control of their land. Official data shows about two-thirds of Taiwan’s 174 mining sites are located on their ancestral lands. Back in Hualien, the protests have awoken the consciousness of Buya’s 25-year-old son, Yudaw Buya, who took part in his first land protest in 2017 – the same year he officially replaced his Chinese name with his indigenous one. “When I was in primary school, I didn’t have a strong sense of my ethnic identity,” said the teacher. He identified meeting other indigenous students at college as a turning point for him. Buya joined the Truku Student and Youth Association, which he now leads. He has become passionate about the Taroko National Park, named after the Truku people who used to live there, organizing hiking trips to former tribal villages in the area.
“We do this to make up for what we, the young people, missed out on in the past,” he said. “It’s like a healing process … I feel like a real Truku now.”
By Beh Lih Yi and Shanshan Chen