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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.

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.

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 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."

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