Interview: Namoh Nofu Pacidal

Namoh Nofu Pacidal was one of the members of the Indigenous Youth Front. The following interview was conducted on September 29th, 2017.


Brian Hioe: The first thing I want to ask is, how did you begin participating in social movements? What issues did you participate in and for what reason? I imagine that with you, it might be more regarding the indigenous movement.

Namoh Nofu Pacidal:  When I first began participating in social movements, I was 25 years old. At the time, in Hean community, there was a lot of issues regarding forced eviction. In Xizhou, Sanying, and other places. I encountered that issue there maybe ten years ago.

Brian Hioe:  How did you participate in these movements?

Namoh Nofu Pacidal:  When the Hean incident began, there weren’t outside groups that came in. But in Sanying, Raging Citizens Act Now and other civil society groups came in to the community. They were more politically left. My knowledge of self-determination issues began to become deeper at that point.

As for us community members or young people, it was like returning to our own villages, using traditional means to accompany our elders or see what was needed. So in the beginning, returning to the village was a lot of eating and drinking, and being taken care of by the people in the village.

When urgent events took place, such as land evictions—there was no organization then, but we established a communication network to link together the young people in northern Taiwan to participate. It wasn’t an organization though, it was quite natural, like a hometown association group in the north of young people, concerned with the living conditions of indigenous people in the north.

The Indigenous Youth Front on 326. Photo credit: 反服貿原青論壇

Brian Hioe:  How did you participate in the Sunflower Movement? I remember hearing that you were inside the Legislative Yuan then.

Namoh Nofu Pacidal:  I sort of can’t remember actually. [Laughs] The day they went into the Legislative Yuan, Savungaz was in the Legislative Yuan. Because we had worked together in many previous movements.

On Facebook, I saw news of this taking place, and started asking people if they wanted to go together. In the beginning, it was quite naive. That if there was an event with a lot of indigenous young people participating, we would go and take a look and see how it is. That was at night, around 10 PM.

There was already a lot of police around there then and the majority of people were inside already, like Wu Cheng, or the people that you often see on television now. And when I went inside, it was probably around 10:30. I’ve forgotten.

I called Savungaz and asked her where she was, we found a window, and I climbed in. Once inside, I stayed inside for two days. Then I left and stayed outside.

Inside, there was a more moderate body, with Lin Fei-Fan organizing and making decisions and so forth. We didn’t participate in this. But in past experience working with other groups, we felt we should self-organize and look at the issue from our perspective. So on the second day, I left and went outside.

However, Savungaz stayed inside. She didn’t know there were some other indigenous young people inside. It was only after she left that she discovered there were three or four indigenous inside, including herself. They didn’t know each other. They didn’t run into each other often during past movements, so didn’t recognize each other within the Legislative Yuan. But there’s the internet now.

Later, outside, we set up an area. On the third or fourth day, we started looking for people to set up a soapbox.

Brian Hioe:  I saw that then.

Namoh Nofu Pacidal:  Back then, in indigenous groups in northern Taiwan, there were people like Tuhi Martukaw and LIMA, who made connections with the international world. They were also there.

There used to be a group called the Pangcah Guard (阿美族守護聯盟). There were some young people then, all students, so I called one of them when I was inside the Legislative Yuan. He was a student at National Taitung University. I asked him if he could find a space to gather and discuss indigenous issues related to the CSSTA as he was heading north.

He began organizing this once he reached Taipei.  In the beginning, it was hard finding a space, because there were so many people on the streets. [Laughs] I remember once I left the inside of the Legislative Yuan, the space of the encampment wasn’t so divided.

I probably saw Le Flanc Radical with their own space set up in the encampment first. They began to organize their own space to discuss the issues they wanted to discuss quite early. And then there were small talks on the speech. Indigenous young people participated quite early on in the movement. In past movements, when we participated, we often made a space for ourselves to discuss indigenous issues in connection to the movement.

We were quite far from the center of the occupation. We were close to Zhongxiao East Road. It felt a bit more comfortable there, since it was less crowded. The young people or elders who came also felt that space was better. We could chat and drink.

I remember the first few days, we didn’t discuss the CSSTA as an issue too deeply. But because of this, we began to do our own things. I remember one time we went back to Jinan Road, where there were people holding talks already, and we were invited to go up and talk by the people there, so we did. We talked about the situation of indigenous in society, how we had already been CSSTA-ed, under conditions of capitalism, since we were marginalized socially and economically. We discussed how a large country and capitalist exploitation posed a threat to minority peoples. 

Brian Hioe:  How do you understand your participation in the movement? People cite Taiwanese identity, for example, but this is primarily a Han sense of Taiwanese identity and not an indigenous one, although indigenous were the earliest peoples on Taiwan.

Namoh Nofu Pacidal:  In the beginning, in the first few days, the essays we put out discussed the issues in relation to the CSSTA, using this to discuss indigenous employment, or economic issues.

The first few days were like this. We went with the tide of the issue. If people were interested, they could find us. We weren’t that far away.

But after staying on-site awhile, we would very easily return to the topic of colonialism. Discussing the issue of free trade, and other political issues which are now mainstream, we would still return to the issues fundamentally confronted by us to look at things.

So we wanted to stick to the central demands of the movement and discuss, for example, how more businesses run by businesses are in intensive industries or that there are more indigenous laborers. Under conditions of the CSSTA, we would be most marginalized. And the influence on us would be largest. Because nobody is boss.

However, our communities could not understand this. Those concerned with the issues in our communities were very few. So after we withdrew, a group of young people advocated going back to our communities to give talks.

Photo credit: 反服貿原青論壇

But I think that this was not that meaningful, because we are discussing labor and poverty. It’s not like this was anything new. You would still had to talk about how we were still marginalized under the economic distribution of the country. The CSSTA would add to our difficulties surviving, but it was nothing new.

Our communities wouldn’t care because the fundamental issue had not been resolved. So we definitely support young people that hope to explain mainstream, contemporary issues in a manner that can be understood in our communities, but I still felt that because this took place within the framework set by a mainstream issue, we couldn’t fully assert our own views. There were limitations.

Brian Hioe:  Do you think that could touch on generational differences? People often talk about the differences between generations as evidenced by the Sunflower Movement, but this usually refers to Han young people. What about with regards to indigenous people? For example, older indigenous sometimes still support the KMT because they see it as more dependable than the DPP, because of its advancing benshengren ethno-nationalism or because it threatens to disrupt Taiwan’s relation with China.

Namoh Nofu Pacidal:  In the beginning, we kept to discussing the CSSTA. But it was difficult not to talk about one’s self when it came to issues such as national identification. Because over 60% of are workers in intensive industries. Only .2% are bosses or capitalists. Looking back at this structure, even if you discuss the influence of the CSSTA, you would find that it’s because under the ROC or any colonial government, that we faced issues stemming from economic inequality.

And that returns to issues of national identification. So whether there’s change or not, up until 318, there was already an issue which stemmed from the nation-state. There was no change. This is how indigenous movements tend to look at mainstream movements. First, you would think of racial disparities or economic inequality.

Looking at it overall, the 318 movement first began from the issue of the CSSTA then turned towards issues of national identification. And that became the mainstream, including what was discussed in talks outside. We were thinking about that from the beginning as well.

Brian Hioe:  I noticed that after the Sunflower Movement, there was much more discussion of issues such as indigenous independence in the indigenous movement and in social movements overall. Do you think that this has to do with increased discussion of Taiwanese national identity following the Sunflower movement, no matter what form of identity that was?

Namoh Nofu Pacidal:  I think that there are many different levels to this. People weren’t familiar with the issues beforehand. The mainstream of social movements and the indigenous movement were quite far removed beforehand. There wasn’t a lot of exchanges or cooperation. The earliest is in 1980, when there began to be a lot of social movements.

But the indigenous movement was slowly noticed within social movements only over time, through the Wild Lily movement, and other movements up until the present. In the decades in between, contact with the margin of social movements was very rare. Nobody knew each other.

So during 318, those who had participated in the movement had a space in which to interact, to exchange phone numbers and so forth, since we were all stuck in the same space. Everyone came to know each other. When Savungaz believed that indigenous issues needed to be discussed, she could discuss it with people around her. And participants in the movement would come to know that there are some different perspectives. The first is that more people from other movements came to know each other.

The second reason is, because it was a large movement, the stimulus was very large. In the past, when we were opposing land evictions, nobody paid attention. At the time, with land evictions in Losheng and Sanying, media did not pay attention. Once the people living in Losing or other areas gave up their residential rights, everyone, including social movements, would stop caring and feel it had nothing to do with them.

Brian Hioe:  It feels like more people from the mainstream started to care about indigenous issues after that, for example, regarding indigenous issues.

Namoh Nofu Pacidal:  Of course, there definitely was a change because participants in social movements came to know each other and to encounter indigenous issues. After 318, this was of aid to the indigenous movement, with outsiders starting to participate.

318 was a large-scale movement. For example, if I were normally a participant in movements against land evictions, through participation in 318, this also magnified the issue and made it feel deeper. Other movement events, such as with the environmental movement, became more intense.

And it all influenced the development of the movement afterwards, maybe with more use of more radical means. Or with more radical discourse used to discuss indigenous rights.

In the past, we might have wondered if we needed to be less direct when discussing indigenous issues with those concerned with the issue, or think about whether one’s demands would affect economic distribution for other people. Like land distribution. Should I discuss this directly? But after 318, this led discourse to become more direct and more radical afterwards.

Photo credit: 反服貿原青論壇

Brian Hioe:  What do you think the shift was, in a historical context?

Namoh Nofu Pacidal:  You could say that after 1980, the Taiwanese indigenous movement internalized, as there started to be forms of representation within the national system. Such as the Council of Indigenous Affairs, which counts as a mechanism within the government.

Since we had this mechanism, and indigenous people entered the government system, this led to internalization. What I mean by this is that, we would try to strive for economic redistribution under the government system, with the government redistributing resources to us. So in the decades after, everyone was discussing policy regarding land preservation and autonomy, rather than discussing reciprocal discussions between different races or nations. These thirty years have been like this.

After the 318, this raised the question of nationalism, with everyone talking about national identification. I also believed that this also pushed the indigenous movement and was a form of influence. Looking back on questions of self-autonomy, this is autonomy within the framework of the nation-state. Is this the most neutral view? From the standpoint of democracy, comparatively, am I part of the most marginalized ethnic group? So in this way, I believe that after the tenth day or so, that’s why we began to discuss sovereign rights.

But in these thirty years, discussing sovereign rights, what we’d discuss more is natural law and that kind of notion of a nation-state without sovereign rights. After the 318 movement, we deliberately compared the current state of indigenous rights in Taiwan with other ethnic groups and limitations in other sovereign nations. We didn’t discuss self-autonomy and tried to get around this supposedly neutral view.

There was also stimulus from pro-independence groups, because when these issues are discussed usually social inequality is not discussed, without considering how to resolve these issues, as well as historical issues, and how to resolve them. Because even if Taiwan were to be independent, indigenous would still live in a society with unequal distribution or resources, or simply have changed their colonizer for another one. So that kind of change isn’t systematic, but must be thought of in terms of Taiwanese history, and how solutions must be found.

Brian Hioe:  For example, discussion of transitional justice and so forth.

Namoh Nofu Pacidal:  Yes. Returning to historical perspectives, then we began talk of indigenous independence. That begins from discussing history from an indigenous perspective and how to resolve historical mistakes which can be fixed. Because whether non-indigenous or indigenous, when I recognize that something was not correct, then it is possible to have the will to fix this historical mistake. This was how the perspective of indigenous independence began to develop from that point in time.

Brian Hioe:  Do you have any views regarding the political slant of social movement participants? Because my own view is that with regards to concern for a number of political issues, whether regarding support for same-sex marriage, concern about economic distribution, opposition to the death penalty, etc., social movement participants are comparatively more left-wing.

Namoh Nofu Pacidal:  From an indigenous perspective, I would ask, what’s the difference between indigenous issues and issues facing other marginalized groups? Most people would be unable to differentiate between the two. Including indigenous themselves.

But when we discuss how to resolve issues facing marginalized people, this is like solving the human rights issues of the country internally. However, indigenous issues returns to history and the long-term history of the nation-state. And so you’ll find that it’s an issue confronting the nation-state, rather than one within the nation-state.

When you discuss indigenous issues such as, self-autonomy within a city, they might categorize us as Taipei residents and say that we have to follow the city regulations. “I’ll treat you as a human,” in that way. [Laughs] It’s treated as an issue of rights within Taipei city, internally.

For marginalized peoples, it will be an issue of people’s rights within the nation-state. But indigenous rights shouldn’t be put into this framework. This is because indigenous rights have been stolen away, exploited, and indigenous have been forced to participate in a country that they didn’t want to be a part of. And so it’s not one’s own country that is redistributing resources, but because one has been forced into a different nation-state system.

We didn’t consent to be colonized. So what should be discussed is what my relation to the nation-state is. What my relation to the colonizer is, that is. Not what kind of rights I should get within the national system. Self-autonomy becomes not just self-autonomy, but becoming migrant workers after indigenous lands were stolen away and made into industrial areas during the period of Taiwan’s economic development.

Then it’s not a matter of self-autonomy, its a question of reparations. The same is true of traditional territories. Or other indigenous rights. Such as hunting or fishing. That’s not something which should be redistributed within the country, but a right which was stolen away by force, and which should be returned. That’s reparations, not a form of social welfare.

The difference between these movements is the same. For example, with same-sex marriage or land evictions, or other social movements, those are movements within the nation-state, hoping to win human rights. This is different from indigenous rights.

Photo credit: 反服貿原青論壇

Brian Hioe:  Lastly, what I want to ask is, do you think that there were will be other movements such as the Sunflower movement? Will indigenous young people participate in the same way? And do you think that this can influence the international world? Such as the international indigenous movement.

Namoh Nofu Pacidal:  I believe that the indigenous movement and social movements are actually confronting each other, its actually very hard to cooperate. Such as indigenous groups and environmental groups. It looks like indigenous groups and environmental groups get along well together, but that is in Taiwan. It’s not always so in other countries.

Because environmental groups in Taiwan pick issues that are not so radical. For example, environmental protection areas in Pingtung. According to traditional values, indigenous should be quite environmental friendly, but we don’t actually have the concept of environmentalism. That’s just our way of life.  Putting the framework of environmentalism on indigenous is not right, or its not exactly right when this is described as environmental awareness. It’s different from the actual meaning.

After the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency, I began to look at many other countries’ regulations, for example, on opening areas for economic development, comparatively this may have less impact on the environment. But this masks that the local people living on that land have been living there originally or may have had some economic development and had these family members or these rights which were originally there.

If I am the Environmental Protection Agency and I make an area protected, where you can’t drive, or can’t cut down trees, then this affects the people who were living there to begin with. So environmental groups and indigenous groups in Taiwan have found a more mutually beneficial way to work, but there is a fundamental contradiction in which it’s impossible for there always not to be a conflict. Because the values fundamentally don’t match.

This is true of social movements overall, as well. Indigenous rights confront colonizers and immigrants. There is our right to the land because we were the first ones there, then there were others that came later. When indigenous discusses this, there can’t really be a sense that nobody is an outsider.

This discourse includes both victimizer and victim. If I’m discussing land today, and we claim that because nobody is an outsider, you should also concern yourself with indigenous issues as the traditional land issue, this leads to a problem. If one day, these land rights return to indigenous, and this affects your interests eventually, are you still an “insider” then?

Because you can’t follow this through to its logical conclusion, its a temporary form of cooperation. I believe that kind of temporary form of cooperation is not a long-term or permanent means. Taiwanese independence groups and indigenous independence can temporarily work together to a certain degree.

When discussing Taiwanese history, what Han Taiwanese discuss is 400 years of history and what we talk about is 8,000 years. And in that 8,000 years of history, of these 400 years of immigrants coming here, don’t we also have to clear this up? And then you’ll discover that there’s no real way to resolve this, and so it’s just temporary cooperation.

Brian Hioe:  What about international indigenous movements?

Namoh Nofu Pacidal:  I advocate that the Taiwanese independence movement are something the international indigenous movement can learn from. In terms of current events, such as with Rohingyas in Myanmar, or in the Philippines, we see indigenous treated as terrorists or facing genocide. In America, indigenous have been assimilated, and can only discuss autonomy in terms of the colonial nation-state. The same is true of Canada. It’s like throwing a few pieces of land to them.

Compared to Taiwan, Taiwanese indigenous still have more opportunities, to become a more progressive place in terms of indigenous rights. Comparatively, treatment of Taiwanese indigenous is relatively advanced compared to other parts of the world. We have the Indigenous Basic Law, indigenous legislators, and etc.

And issues of sovereignty come up often in Taiwan. There are less obstructions. In other countries such as America or Australia, the amount of oppression you receive from advocating independence is much greater, whereas relative freedom to organize is larger. We can maybe set an example for the international indigenous movement, whether in terms of law or organization.

With regards to self-autonomy or other issues, you discover that the country can’t respond to these issues, even if it doesn’t want to take care of it all the way, it can’t fully respond to these issues. Even when if it is raised often in the legislature, the facts that are it can’t be taken care of. Even if they try to trick us, we can raise it again.

Under these political circumstances, the government pretends not to have notice, but this is something good for the indigenous movement, that it keeps getting put on stage. For example, compared to Hokkaido in Japan, they have even less land than Taiwan. You find that for Taiwan to have a self-autonomy law, relative to other Asian countries, this is very progressive compared to other places. This can be a point of cooperation.

Will this give pressure to other countries in Asia with indigenous populations? I believe that it can. So as long as we continue to cooperate in that regard. But on the other hand, the international indigenous movement can also apply pressure to Taiwan.

Photo credit: 反服貿原青論壇

For example, international covenants on the rights of indigenous, once signed, can be used to apply pressure if Taiwan doesn’t live up the terms of these agreements. For Taiwan to maintain its claim to be a democracy, it has to answer criticisms, otherwise it does not appear so democratic.

As for connections with the international indigenous movement, this can also affect internal reform in Taiwan. In the UN, if countries with indigenous populations that support Taiwanese indigenous having their own rights, it’s hard to avoid this kind of pressure. It’s a way to influence the inside from the outside.