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Session A6
Hunting, Ecological Knowledge, and Governance of Forests: Truku Perspectives
史國良 Scott Simon
School of Sociological and Anthropological Studies, University of Ottawa, Canada

The decriminalization of hunting, a longstanding demand of Taiwan’s indigenous rights movement, was promised in the 2005 Basic Law on Indigenous Peoples, but has been difficult to implement. In fact, legalization carries responsibilities and challenges that are still poorly understood. While legislators debate how to revise laws and judges dismiss cases of indigenous hunters charged with violating existing laws, men from nearly all indigenous groups continue to hunt and trap in the mountainous forests of Taiwan. They still face many obstacles as they attempt to carry out traditional cultural and subsistence hunting practices on lands that are now designated as belonging to the Forestry Bureau or to National Parks.  

In spite of nearly two decades of tribal mapping and discussions about traditional territory, indigenous hunters are still treated as poachers on their own lands. This situation makes it difficult at best to share ecological knowledge or strengthen indigenous institutions that have sustainably managed relations with wildlife populations for generations. The criminalization of hunting is arguably an assault on indigenous land use traditions and a violation of human rights. Without strengthening indigenous institutions, moreover, rapid decriminalization of hunting threatens to create a non-sustainable tragedy of the commons. It is now more urgent than ever to understand the perspectives of ordinary hunters and trappers based on their embodied experiences on the land. 

This paper will begin with an exploration of perspectives from the Truku people living in the mountain ranges from Nantou in central Taiwan to coastal Hualien. It is based on phenomenological research methods of walking with indigenous people through the mountain forests for observation of mammals, birds, plants, and other living creatures. The central metaphor is that of “pathways”: dugar for the animals and birds who seek food and water; elug for the humans who have carved out traplines, migrated along riversheds, and even made their way to Taipei or United Nations forums to lobby for their rights. Along these pathways, they have built up a meshwork of relations with human and non-human lives. Relations built along these pathways constitute the basis for techniques of hunting, knowledge of the natural world, and institutions for regulating the use of such pathways in a respectful manner. The relationship between this life-world and the imaginations of urban-based legislators who would like to regulate people and forests is inevitably fraught with tensions and miscommunication, even in best case situations in which people meet in good faith with friendly intentions. It is especially difficult when there are competing claims to the same lands and resources. 

As Taiwan moves forward towards transitional justice, the creation of tribal councils (buluo huiyi), and co-management, there is resistance from powerful interest groups ranging from state organizations to animal rights lobbyists. It is thus increasingly important to valorize indigenous knowledge and to facilitate the construction of new institutions that can simultaneously promote indigenous autonomy and sustainable governance of forests. This can be done most effectively by deepening understanding of indigenous traditions and existing institutions (such as the customary law of Gaya), but also by learning from indigenous nations in other parts of the world who have successfully strengthened their autonomous hunting regimes as a pre-condition for renegotiating relations with encompassing nation-states. This paper thus ends by taking a comparative look at the James Bay Cree in Northern Québec who have asserted a place for Cree hunters as stewards of the land and as members of a Hunters and Trappers Income Security Board.