Taiwanese President Issues Country's First Apology To Indigenous People : The Two-Way "We have to face the truth," Tsai Ing-wen said to representatives of the native tribes of Taiwan. She said her government offered its "fullest apology" for the treatment of aboriginal Taiwanese.
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Taiwanese President Issues Country's First Apology To Indigenous People

University students who belong to indigenous tribes prepare for a ceremony to affirm their ethnic identity. Taiwan's aboriginal tribes arrived thousands of years before Chinese immigrants, but now account for only 2 percent of the population. Anthony Kuhn/NPR hide caption

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Anthony Kuhn/NPR

University students who belong to indigenous tribes prepare for a ceremony to affirm their ethnic identity. Taiwan's aboriginal tribes arrived thousands of years before Chinese immigrants, but now account for only 2 percent of the population.

Anthony Kuhn/NPR

The president of Taiwan has apologized for her country's treatment of aboriginal people.

"If we wish to declare ourselves as a country of one people, we need to face these historical facts. We have to face the truth," Tsai Ing-wen said Monday, according to The Associated Press. She offered a "fullest apology" on behalf of her government.

Tsai's grandmother was from the Paiwan indigenous tribe, the BBC has reported. She's the first leader of Taiwan with indigenous heritage, according to The Australian.

Tsai also announced the formation of a "justice and historical justice commission" to examine the historical treatment of aboriginal peoples.

The statement, in a ceremony attended by representatives of the 16 recognized indigenous tribes of Taiwan, was the first-ever apology by the government to the tribes.

Tama Talum (center) and fellow aboriginal hunters carry shotguns in the mountains in Taitung, eastern Taiwan, on July 2. Hunting rights have been a major point of contention between indigenous Taiwanese and the government. On Monday, President Tsai Ing-wen apologized to the island's indigenous people for injustices over the centuries. Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images

Tama Talum (center) and fellow aboriginal hunters carry shotguns in the mountains in Taitung, eastern Taiwan, on July 2. Hunting rights have been a major point of contention between indigenous Taiwanese and the government. On Monday, President Tsai Ing-wen apologized to the island's indigenous people for injustices over the centuries.

Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images

The Dutch, the Chinese and the Japanese each colonized Taiwan. As NPR's Anthony Kuhn reported earlier this summer, the ancestral lands of Taiwan's indigenous people are now owned by the state, and tribal members have limited land rights:

"Thousands of years before ethnic Chinese settled on Taiwan, aboriginal tribes were hunting and farming the land. The island's aborigines are an Austronesian people, some of whose ancestors are believed to have come from the Philippines.

"Today, indigenous people account for only 2 percent of Taiwan's population. They face a lack of economic opportunity in their own communities, forcing them to look for work elsewhere. They lack control over their resources — timber and water, for example, which are often taken from them without compensation. Many younger indigenous people are unaware of their own cultural and linguistic traditions."

Taiwanese aborigines were hoping that Tsai's presidency would lead to better treatment of their communities. Her inauguration included aboriginal people.

An apology was one thing aborigines were looking for, Anthony says. But he notes that Tsai has also promised "to improve indigenous tribes' livelihoods, promote self-governance and protect tribes' languages and culture."