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Territoriality, resistance and indigenous development in protected areas: A political ecology analysis of Truku people in eastern Taiwan

Territoriality, resistance and indigenous development in protected areas: A political ecology analysis of Truku people in eastern Taiwan
Wu-Long Jhuang


Department of Urban Studies and Planning, The University of Sheffield, Sheffield, South Yorkshire S10 2TN, UNITED KINGDOM.


Indigenous areas in Taiwan were a ‘special administrative region’ during the Japanese colonial period (1895-1945). The Japanese police controlled the primary aspects of everyday life of indigenous people. Some policies concerning indigenous people have been continued in the post-colonial regimes of Han Chinese until now. Protected areas (PAs) have been established since the 1980s by central government when Taiwan was still under the martial law. National parks are typical protected area with rigorous conservation restrictions. Some protected areas actually overlapped with the traditional domains of indigenous people. Community conservation is a participatory protected area and has emerged around the 1990s. It is seen as a reform of fortress protected areas such as parks because it integrates both objectives of conservation and development. The rolling back of the state and empowerment of the local community are assumed to be the features of such a reformed policy. Community conservation has become popular among indigenous communities of Taiwan since 2000.

This study aims to look at the interactions between state authorities and local indigenous people in PAs. Two Truku villages in east Taiwan were selected as case studies, as one is in Taroko National Park while the other conducted a community conservation project in the 2000s. Qualitative methods were employed for data collection. Drawing from the theory of political ecology, a framework is constructed drawing together human territoriality, resistance, and social impacts. This analysis framework was employed to examine the acts of state agencies and local Truku people, and social repercussions in the Truku examples in the context of PAs. Research results showed that the establishment of PAs and conservation policy implementations in PAs by state agencies were acts of internal territorialisation. Such a spatial classification restricted the locals’ exploitation of natural resources according to the imposed regulations. Through the control enforcement by state agencies and judicial authorities, conflicts between the local indigenous people and state agencies have happened. Even the co-management arrangement of the Park and the planning of scenic areas for local development revealed the domination of power by the government. These restrictions resulted in unpleasant social impacts such as difficulties of cultural practices and livelihood selections as well as the undermining social capital in the local indigenous communities. Accordingly, the local Truku people mobilised resistance to the conservation interventions via individual everyday practices and collective protests. Their resistance aimed to express their sustenance demands and ethnic claims. Differences between covert and overt resistance depended on the degree of empowerment. Through the process of empowerment, local protesters gained more information and political dynamics for their collective action, open resistance.

I primarily contend that the establishment of PAs and conservation policy implementations by governmental agencies, whether through parks or community conservation, are acts of internal territoriality. Territorialisation of the state tends to result in resistance by the local indigenous residents due to the negative social impacts as a result of conservation interventions. This argument also interprets the unexpected consequence, resistance of the local indigenous people, of PA policies in Taiwan. To avoid the undesired outcome of policy implementation and social cost, it is necessary to build trust between them. A participatory project which confers genuine power and accords with local norms may be feasible. Decentralised power could be the first step of a breakthrough.