The East Asian Studies Center at Indiana University hosted Legal Scholar Awi Mona this past Friday to discuss indigenous rights in the context of legal reform in Taiwan. Mona, an Associate Professor of Law and Indigenous Studies at the National Dong Hwa University, is a member of the Seediq Nation and has conducted extensive research on the legal aspects of Indigenous Rights, especially in the backdrop of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing wen’s official apology to the indigenous people and incorporation of laws and rights into their constitution. Though Mona focused on the indigenous people of Taiwan, a country with a complex colonial and state history, many of his findings can apply to more than Taiwan, as Taiwan is one of many nations who apologized and are using legal and social means to bring justice to the people.
“In Taiwan right now [the population] is like 23 million and indigenous people [population] is like 515,000, so it is about 2.3% of the total population in Taiwan.”
Mona focuses on the representation of people as a legal definition, because indigenous tribes weren’t considered people in their colonial history and instead were labeled “savages” to justify harsh colonialism and imperialism by other countries, from the Portuguese and Dutch to the Japanese.
“[You can be] a person socially or biologically, but never be a person a legally. So if you are not recognized as a person legally… you will not be treated as a legal person.”
Mona is part of the professional movement to include more language in the constitution and legislation to not only protect indigenous rights in Taiwan, but to actualize indigenous legal traditions to allow for self-government in certain legal contexts. Though the national apology only happened a little over a year ago, these strong efforts by Mona and others strive for the revival of indigenous culture and identity.