Indigenous Hunting Rights on Trial in Taiwan

Indigenous Hunting Rights on Trial in Taiwan
Photo Credit: CNA

What you need to know

An Indigenous hunter’s legal case has taken on larger meaning as a verdict on Indigenous hunting rights writ large.

A streak of smoke wafted up from the plaza before Judicial Yuan this morning, as groups gathered to protest the prosecution of Talum Suqluman, a member of the Bunun tribe, for his hunting practices. The demonstration was held to coincide with a hearing on Talum’s case and Indigenous hunting writ large at the constitutional court.

Indigenous activists shared rice wine and betel nuts with each other and burned plants to produce smoke, a signal for the beginning of warfare, in the morning after a night of sleep-in protests. Some held banners that read, “Hunting culture isn’t illegal, the law is unconstitutional.”

Talum Suqluman, 62, was arrested in 2013 for hunting a Formosan serow and a Reeve’s muntjac with an unregulated firearm and sentenced to three and a half years in prison. Both animals are protected species under the Wildlife Conservation Act.

The trial of Talum was suspended in 2017, after Yen Da-ho, the former prosecutor-general, filed an extraordinary appeal. The Supreme Court later declared the case unconstitutional and filed for a constitutional interpretation.

The Grand Justices decided to hold a hearing at the court after a similar case was appealed; Pan Zhi-qiang of the Puyuma tribe was sentenced to six months in prison for hunting wild game. 

Participants at the court include the defendants, officials of the National Policy Agency and Council of Agriculture, and exports of Indigenous cultures and environmental protection.

Talum spoke at the court in his native language, saying that he had hunted the animals for his grandmother and it is part of the Bunun’s values to “love each other.”

Hunting is also an integral part of the Bunun culture. Talum said the practice traces back to the wisdom of the ancestors and his people value the idea of “co-existence and co-prosperity with animals.”

原住民族青年陣線號召夜宿司法院
Photo Credit: CNA
Indigenous activists at an overnight protest at the Judicial Yuan, March 8, 2021.

Talum’s attorney stated that wild game symbolizes a blessing from the ancestors in Indigenous cultures, and hunting is an important way to practice their beliefs.

According to the Wildlife Conservation Act, the attorney said that human lives and cultures precede the conservation of wild animals, and the Constitution also guarantees the hunting rights for Indigenous peoples.

Another issue central to the legal dispute is the use of hunting weapons. Despite having the rights to hunt, Indigenous peoples are allowed to use handmade weapons that do not shoot multiple bullets at once.

But these weapons often lead to misfires. Defendants claimed that airguns are much safer and more convenient to use, but hunting with these guns is currently a crime.

While Indigenous peoples continue to use dangerous weapons, activist groups said the current law, which requires registration prior to hunting, runs afoul of their beliefs. They also cited the difficulty of predicting the types of animals they might shoot down.

Attorneys stressed that what Indigenous peoples want is autonomy. “It means to manage the community in our own ways, and since hunting weapons are necessary tools for our culture, we can establish our own rules to regulate their use.”

But government officials insisted that the use of guns be regulated. The Executive Yuan said it is constitutional to protect Indigenous hunting rights by allowing basic weapons.

Authorities at the National Policy Agency believe they need to discuss with Indigenous groups before allowing other types of hunting weapons. They said they might have to provide professional training and issue licenses to Indigenous peoples.

Icyang Parod, minister of the Council of Indigenous Peoples, concluded that despite the diversity of arguments, all the participants believe in the value of Indigenous hunting rights and that they should be protected by the law.

Based on the arguments it heard today at the hearing, the Grand Justices will announce the decision within a month.

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TNL Editor: Bryan Chou, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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