Taiwan President Tsai becomes first leader to apologise to indigenous people

This handout photo taken and released by Taiwan's Presidential Office on August 1, 2016 shows Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen (L) listening as 80-year-old indigenous Yami leader Capen Nganaen (R) speaks during a ceremony at the Presidential Office bu
This handout photo taken and released by Taiwan's Presidential Office on August 1, 2016 shows Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen (L) listening as 80-year-old indigenous Yami leader Capen Nganaen (R) speaks during a ceremony at the Presidential Office building in Taipei. President Tsai Ing-wen formally apologised to Taiwan's indigenous people for their centuries of suffering on August 1, the country's first ever leader to do so. The indigenous community -- which makes up about two percent of Taiwan's 23.5 million people -- have seen their traditional culture eroded since immigrants started arriving from China centuries ago. Characters (at centre) read "truth 2016 reconciliation".AFP

TAIPEI (AFP) - President Tsai Ing-wen on Monday (Aug 1) formally apologised to Taiwan's indigenous people for their centuries of suffering , the first ever leader to do so.

Ms Tsai, the island's only leader with aboriginal blood, will personally head a committee to investigate past injustices as part of government efforts to ease tensions with the native community.

"I apologise to the indigenous people on behalf of the government, to give our deepest apology over the suffering and injustice you endured over the past 400 years," she said in a speech.

"We need to look at history seriously and speak out the truth," she said, adding that apologising was "another step forward".

Hundreds of aboriginals staged protests outside the presidential office in Taipei over the weekend, calling for protection of their hunting rights and demanding concrete actions from the government.

The indigenous community - which makes up about two per cent of Taiwan's 23.5 million people - have seen their traditional culture eroded since immigrants started arriving from China centuries ago.

Much of their land is now designated national park, leading to clashes over hunting, fishing and foraging in areas where permits are needed.

Today, they are still a marginalised group, with wages about 40 per cent less than the national average, as well as a higher rate of unemployment.

Ms Tsai pledged to increase autonomy and rights for indigenous people during her election campaign, which saw her Democratic Progressive Party win a landslide victory in January.

Earlier on Monday, tribe members invited to witness Ms Tsai's speech burned millet stalks in front of the presidential office as part of a ceremony calling out to ancestral spirits to join them.

She then greeted the representatives from each of the 16 recognised tribes, who wore their traditional tribal clothing.