Ibi Soqluman shares wisdom from the Bunun people that can help change the relationship between settlers and Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

A small mountain village, with one main street, seen from an aerial view.
Wangmei, the author's village in the mountains of Taiwan.
Credit: Joe-Lo, Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.0
Published On: May 24, 2023

I am an Indigenous person from Taiwan, my name is Ibi Soqluman. There’s no last name or first name. It is a name that was given to me that I inherited from my ancestor. As far as I know, I am the first and the only Bunun ministry personnel in The United Church of Canada, thus living in Canada as an Indigenous person from the Asian continent. It could possibly be said that my family and I are a minority within a minority.

To date, there are 17 Indigenous tribes that have been acknowledged by the Taiwan government. Their record would show that Taiwan’s Indigenous history has existed for more than 40,000 years. Bunun (which means “human”) is known in Taiwan for living in harmony with nature. They called the land their land “Taloqan” or “Maiasung,” which means the great, quiet land where human beings dwell. According to the Bunun oral tradition told through many stories, the Bunun people lived over a wide area stretching from what is now called Eastern Taiwan and Western Taiwan. The Bunun people also have their own unique language, culture, and history.

A group of traditional Bunan people, stand in formal tribal attire in this 1900 black and white photo.
Bunun people in formal attire, photographed in 1900.
Credit: Torii Ryuzo, Wikipedia

As I journey and live in Canada, my Indigenous Bunun identity and heritage has given me a unique lens about the Indigenous Peoples in Canada, including the First Nations Peoples. As Indigenous Peoples, we share certain characteristics and experiences, especially as ethnic minorities in our own land. Yet, the two are not the same. As a whole, Indigenous Peoples are those who have had their land, culture, and language expropriated by illegal means. We were forced to assimilate in the culture of the colonizers of our lands, thus, affecting generations and generations of our peoples. In addition, the concept of race was used as a political tool that continuously ignores the languages and cultures of Indigenous Peoples.

In 1993, the United Nations declared the Year of the World’s Indigenous People as the global community recognized the worldwide movements of Indigenous peoples to reclaim their rights. In 1986, The United Church of Canada made the apology to First Nations Peoples as an important step forward towards reconciliation. Yet in spite of the United Church’s attempts to deepen their connection with the First Nations Peoples, they still often struggle to identify who they are and how to live in their apology. In the past, some churches stood idly by, their silence complicit in the policy of forced assimilation, which was carried out by colonizers seeking to build the nation of Canada. Meanwhile, the First Nations Peoples suffered under colonization and resisted government control.

At this point, I would like to use a Bunun characteristic that might be helpful to congregants in The United Church of Canada as they live out the action of our apology to the Indigenous Peoples of this land. Through the lens of Bunun culture, perhaps the church family in the United Church might imagine themselves companions to the Indigenous Peoples, even as they are recognized as outsiders by the local Indigenous folks.

In the Bunun language, the word of dan-a is an abbreviation of “Dan” which means a visitor; “a” means “our, mine.” Combined together, dan-a” means “next” or “neighbour” or “listener.” In short, “my neighbour.” This is the word the Bunun people use when visitors come to our territory and stay with us. So, these visitors become our “dan-a” or my neighbour even if they are outsiders. Furthermore, when one who identifies as a “dan-a” is visiting other people, this act is called “dan-a-doqung” which means “be a companion.”

Using this imagination will perhaps bring a change in people’s attitude from being outsiders to being a neighbour to the Indigenous peoples of this land. In that transformation, the companion’s desire to demonstrate respect, peace, justice and love of Christ Jesus may be viewed by local Indigenous Peoples as expression of love to their people, the Earth, and their Creator. After all, in Bunun consciousness, every human being is a spiritual creature walking in a holy journey on Earth.

— Ibi Soqluman (Chuan) was born in the village of Kalibuan, Nantou, in the centre of Taiwan. Ibi was raised on his family farm. He is the minister at Cranbrook United Church in East Kootenay, B.C. He is one of the Pacific Mountain Region’s executive members, and also a member of the Anti-Racism Common Table of The United Church of Canada.

The views contained within these blogs are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of The United Church of Canada.