Taipei, Taiwan – Indigenous Taiwanese are awaiting a landmark ruling from the island’s top court on Friday, which will determine the scope of their traditional prey-hunting rights and possibly pave the way for a limited return of civilian firearms to the island after being banned by law. In the early 1980s.
The case began eight years ago in 2013 with a lawsuit under the Wildlife Conservation Act on the island of Talum Sukluman (Wang Kuang-lu), an indigenous hunter in Banun.
He was initially sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison after being convicted of using a “modified rifle” to kill two protected animals, although the term was suspended in 2017 after an international outcry.
However, Shikari continues to fight against his vision – representing the Legal Aid Foundation of Taiwan.
Earlier this year, Taiwan’s Constitutional Court limited the island’s wildlife conservation law to regional human rights, claiming hunting was an important cultural practice and hearing from a number of plaintiffs on whether small-scale hunting was allowed.
On Friday afternoon, the apex court will rule that indigenous hunters should restrict the use of home-made guns and traps to kill animals and whether they should apply for government permission before hunting.
The Legal Aid Foundation of Taiwan told Al Jazeera that the laws are both practical and in conflict with the traditional conservative practices of the island’s indigenous peoples protected under basic law.
“The Wildlife Conservation Act regulates indigenous hunters who must apply and be told before and how many animals must be hunted, which violates customary law that hunting is a blessing of the ancestral soul so no one should be proud and show otherwise one is punished by god Will be given, ”said the Foundation’s Indigenous People’s Legal Center.
“Also, we can’t be surprised in an unpredictable environment like forests, how anyone can know in advance what prey will be hunted.”
Taiwan recognizes 16 indigenous groups whose ancestors lived on the island for thousands of years before they came from mainland China in the 1st century, and the government of the People’s Republic of China established itself on the island in 1949.
“Taiwan is an integral part of our indigenous culture,” says Baubu Kaljas, a paiwan hunter who leads an indigenous youth organization in southern Taiwan. “Animal sacrifices are often the most important part of our traditional religious rituals, including janaza, harvest festivals and prayers.
“I think it is unfair to even ask the government for victims of ‘legal rights’. The [Republic of China] The government took our homeland a few decades ago. We, the indigenous people of Taiwan, have lived on this island for millennia. Did the government want “rights” to dominate us when they took control? “
Dition is the victim of persecution
Taiwan’s Ministry of Agriculture has expressed concern that the relaxed laws will return excessively to Taiwan, where indigenous species were once on the verge of extinction.
For 300 years tiny Montzak were hunted for their animals, including deer and monkeys, most of which were exported.
Most hunting ended during the island’s martial law in the early 1930’s, but according to wildlife conservation expert Curtis Payer, it emphasized the need for a smaller size to meet the demand for game meat among most ethnic Han Taiwanese.
Commercial hunting was officially banned until the 1989 Wildlife Conservation Act. Since then, the population of Bun, Montjack and Samba deer has begun to recover, according to Perry.
Indigenous hunting, unlike commercial hunting, is carried out only at the stage of subsistence or to prevent the animal from eating the crop and does not hinder the recovery of the species.
“The thing that most outsiders misunderstand is that they think we kill indiscriminately, which is what we see,” said Sumon Ayon, an American hunter-gatherer from Olai, a district in New Taipei, known for its waterfalls and mountain views. The victim teaches the class.
“We don’t do anything by crying. We follow the tu between the mountains and the river bank. The Han (ethnic Chinese) people think that we hunt all day, every day. “
With the number of animals increasing over the past 20 years, Baubu says limited hunting is now needed to maintain the ecological balance.
“For those of us who live very close to the mountains, it is clear that wildlife numbers are out of control. Without any predators in the current ecosystem, these animals are breeding faster and the density of plants as a whole is declining, ”he said.
“Now you Matijaks are coming down to the plains, soaking into the community at night. As vegetation gradually disappears, we also see higher frequencies of landslides in recent years. On the other hand, the cultural loss of generations has resulted in a decrease in your hunting activity. I think indigenous hunting only affects a small part of a rich wildlife population. “
Unlike Taiwan’s current application-based system, indigenous hunters and experts say they would prefer a hunting management system that gives the local community more control over the conduct and monitoring of hunting activities.
“The key is to create a kind of organization where the hunters in each region can make their own local hunting arrangements. They are already doing it, but it would be good to get some encouragement to make it more formal, ”said Scott Simon, co-chairman of Taiwan Studies at the University of Ottawa in Canada, who has lived for several years. With indigenous communities in southern and eastern Taiwan.
Some quasi-government collaborations have already seen results.
Pai, who is also a professor at Pingtong University of Science and Technology in Taiwan, has worked closely with the hunting association as part of his conservation research. Indigenous communities in the mountainous Alishan Township in central Taiwan have already had some success working with the Forestry Bureau, according to Babu, who hopes to hunt through more collaborative associations.
A sticking point is the weapon.
At the moment, hunters use homemade guns, usually made from devices such as modified nail guns or magos-loading rifles, that require hunters to add gunpowder to fire each shot, Taiwanese media reported.
But they say such weapons are both dangerous and cruel because they can easily be forgotten or cause an animal to suffer a painful death.
“[Ethnic] Han people will sometimes come across a dead animal in the mountains left for the dead and share the picture saying [Indigenous] “People are killing indiscriminately,” he said. “Actually, it’s because our guns aren’t good, unlike foreign hunters, the prey can run long after being shot. It can take several shots to hit which is even more brutal.
Due to security concerns, the Interior Ministry said it could consider allowing indigenous poachers to purchase registered firearms, Taiwanese media reported.
If the amendment is passed, the Taiwanese government will then be in a unique position to expand gun rights on a smaller scale, where most places have tried to limit them.
Under Taiwan’s firearms law, most citizens are prohibited from owning firearms, including handguns, rifles and shotguns. Outside of indigenous hunters, only fishermen can apply for ownership of a harp gun.
The Indigenous People’s Legal Center said Friday’s Supreme Court ruling could go far beyond gun rights and could put greater pressure on Taiwan’s indigenous rights.
Although communities are protected by a number of laws, they do not enjoy the same level of protection as the Canadian First Nations or Mওori in New Zealand.
Some indigenous descendants are the first leaders President Sosai Ing-wen’s administration has shown interest in expanding indigenous rights.
Activists hope the ruling in favor of the community will further support this cause.