Airline’s Indigenous Name Bungle Reveals Taiwanese ‘Ignorance’

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'When I go to Starbucks and order my drink with my indigenous name, the staff ask me politely if they are not sure how to pronounce my name. That’s called respect.”

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A Taiwanese man who was told not to use his indigenous name when booking a flight believes the airline has not learned from its mistake.

Nagao Kunaw (陳睿哲), a graduate student, was told by ground staff from Uni Airlines on April 16 that he should use his Chinese name to book flights.

After the incident, he wrote an open letter to the airline, saying that although he was eventually allowed on his flight, he felt humiliated during the event.

Two days later, the airline apologized to Nagao Kunaw, saying the company would make sure the situation would be avoided in the future.

However, Nagao Kunaw told The News Lens today, after the apology, Uni Airline issued a press statement but referred to him by his Chinese surname.

“I don’t think they understand how important it is to use our names correctly,” he says. “They are making things worse.”

In a Facebook post, he said the airline should update its self-service check-in machines and improve staff training.

He understands some people may have difficulty pronouncing unfamiliar names but believes the issue shows disrespect towards indigenous culture, he told TNL.

“For example, when I go to Starbucks and order my drink with my indigenous name, the staff ask me politely if they are not sure how to pronounce my name. That’s called respect.”

Legislator Kolas Yotaka told The News Lens that 30,000 indigenous people in Taiwan use their indigenous names. She says Taiwanese society can be “ignorant” and show little acknowledgment of minority rights.

“I understand the concern that the ground staff might have, I really do. [The staff] might not understand indigenous people at all. But the important issue is to educate the public so that people will no longer ignore minorities and start to respect each other.”

Taiwan’s indigenous people, who come from at least 16 different tribes, number about 535,000 or 2 percent of the country’s 23.5 million people.

A leading indigenous studies expert from I-Shou University, Sasala Taban, told local news website ETToday that Taiwan’s law includes the right for people to use their indigenous name.

Kolas Yotaka told The News Lens previously there is still a long way to go in educating Taiwanese about the country’s indigenous history.

She said in January that discrimination towards indigenous people is ingrained and subsequently there is a lack of awareness towards the issues they face.

Still she is hopeful once the general population has a better understanding of how land was traditionally used, and about the many important military battles that have influenced Taiwan’s history, a deeper respect for indigenous rights should emerge.

Editor: Edward White

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