Author: Wasiq Silan
Despite the varying colonial histories with Indigenous peoples in other parts of the world, Indigenous people in Taiwan have one disturbing issue in common: poor health. They die almost a decade sooner than the general population. Why this disparity?
We are taught to believe the argument that blames Indigenous peoples for their own high-risk behavioral choice, lack of awareness, low educational attainment and dysfunctional families. However, closer examination shows that we need to look beyond the individual level. Researchers in New Zealand have noted that the weight of colonization and the ongoing colonial impacts have led directly to Indigenous health inequalities. We should include colonialism as a social determinant of Indigenous health. My research takes elderly care as an example, delving into policies and practices of elderly care for the Indigenous peoples to explore the broader picture behind the stigmatized image. It shows how colonialism plays a role in determining Indigenous health.
We need to engage ethically with Indigenous research
To explore the broader picture behind the stigmatized image and the role of colonialism, we need to reflect on who we are as researchers and why we choose specific methods to examine the structural issues behind the poor health conditions of Indigenous people.
The first thing I did was to reflect on who is the “I” that is talking. This reflection led me to use the Tayal method of research (which I call Tayal hermeneutics) as a critical lens. Indigenous research paradigm has informed my choice of method, which allowed me to examine the power imbalance in elderly care. Instead of taking policies as given, I focused on how they create problems when defining and proposing “better solutions.”
Dominant research treats Indigenous peoples as mere research objects and the embodiment of “the problem” itself. That explains why the word research triggers pain and anxieties as it links to colonialism. Instead of studying elderly care as an indifferent outsider, my research design aimed to develop an alternative discourse that is responsive to the lives and everyday experiences of the Bnkis, Tayal Elders. To do that, I followed my grandmother’s footsteps into a day activity center for the Indigenous elderly (“Day Club”) to promote the health and well-being in her community. The process of (re)negotiating my way back to my community marked the initiation of reclaiming my name through rebuilding relationships. Why is it needed? Researching Indigenous communities is based on an intricate web of relationships. It is not simply “enter the field,” “recruit participants,” and “collect data.”
How to move beyond the ongoing colonialism towards the Tayal
After six years of doctoral research, I conclude that today’s Taiwanese society seeks to deal with questions arising from “multiculturalism” that has always been there. No matter how multicultural Taiwan has claimed to be, the approach to accommodate Indigenous elders still derives from a middle-class, urban, Han-Chinese norm. It individualizes, generalizes, and medicalizes what care ought to be and marginalizes Indigenous elders’ view of good care.
Elderly care policies in Taiwan continue to turn a blind eye to its colonial past (and present).in doing so, it makes the relationship between the state and the Indigenous peoples unequal. Fortunately, the Indigenous peoples are not passively oppressed by the state. Instead, they are constantly re-defined and resist the imposed idealized “tribal care.”
My research shows that we should involve voices from the Bnkis (Tayal Elders) to make better care policies in contemporary Taiwan. Re-centering Elders’ voices have global relevance to the Indigenous rights worldwide.conceptualizing and elevating the Indigenous ways of knowing is a prerequisite for a meaningful future partnership between Indigenous peoples and the state. Renowned addiction expert Gabor Maté noted in a session about trauma: ”In western societies, we have the elderly; in Indigenous societies, we have Elders. What a difference.” Transforming what we think about the elderly may be a key in devising care for generations to come.
Wasiq Silan defended her dissertation on 16th May 2021. The full text can be freely downloaded from the online database of University of Helsinki https://helda.helsinki.fi/handle/10138/329277
Wasiq Silan (I-An Gao) is descendent of the Tayal people from the northern region of Taiwan and she completed her PhD in 2021 at the University of Helsinki. She is working as a postdoctoral researcher in a research project Coming of age in indigenous communities: Ageing, quality of life and home-based elderly care in Sápmi and Atayal region (2019-2022), funded by the Norwegian Research Centre. She is currently affiliated to the Centre for Research on Ethnic Relations and Nationalism (CEREN).
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