Activism, Art & Culture, Indigenous Taiwan, Podcast, Taiwan, Taiwan Films, Taiwan History, Taiwan Life, Taiwan Organizations

Tony Coolidge: Finding his Indigenous Roots in Taiwan Ep 112

By Felicia Lin

A note from Talking Taiwan host Felicia Lin:

Did you know that there are 16 indigenous tribes officially recognized in Taiwan and up to 29 self-identified tribes?  Also, Taiwan’s current President Tsai Ing-wen’s paternal grandmother was from the Paiwan tribe. My guest on this episode of Talking Taiwan is Tony Coolidge. Tony is the Founder of the Atayal organization, which is named after his mother’s indigenous tribe. In this interview Tony talks about finding his indigenous roots and the indigenous people of Taiwan. This is part one of a two part interview.

In part two of our interview, Tony will talk about his work with Indigenous Bridges through his nonprofit, the Atayal organization.


Here’s a little preview of what we talked about in this podcast episode:

  • How Tony discovered his indigenous roots
  • Tony memories of his mother and the lessons she taught him
  • Tony’s mother’s connection to Taiwan and her indigenous roots
  • The first time that Tony visited Taiwan and met his mother’s family
  • Tony’s mother’s village Wulai
  • The documentary film that was made about Tony’s month-long trip to Taiwan with his brother during which time he met with several indigenous peoples and learned more about the culture
  • Tony’s mother’s struggles as an indigenous person and why she may have hidden her indigenous background from him
  • The pressure that Tony’s grandfather (his mother’s father, who was the chief/mayor of Wulai) had to show allegiance to the Chinese under the Kuomintang regime
  • How the indigenous peoples’ identity was suppressed under the Kuomintang regime and led to discrimination and abuse of indigenous people
  • The discrimination that indigenous people faced under the rule of the Kuomintang and Japanese
  • How the discrimination and abuse of indigenous people has changed over time
  • Tony’s desire to preserve indigenous culture
  • How policies of former President of Taiwan, Chen Shui-bian and the changing attitudes of the media contributed to changing people views of the indigenous peoples of Taiwan
  • Some key facts about the Atayal tribe (that Tony’s mother belonged to)
  • The mountainous and lowland indigenous tribes of Taiwan
  • How many indigenous tribes are presently recognized in Taiwan
  • The story of how the Atayal tribe’s custom of headhunting was ended
  • How Tony’s sons are learning the Atayal language
  • Tony started his nonprofit organization in 2001
  • In 2004 Tony’s nonprofit had its first indigenous cultural festival in Orlando, Florida
  • Alice the teacher of indigenous cultures that Tony met in 2004 and how she was instrumental in arranging the trip during which much of the documentary about Tony’s life was filmed
  • Tony’s trip to Taiwan in December 2004- January 2005 with his brother and the documentary film crew
  • How the trip to Taiwan affected Tony’s brother
  • How the death of Tony’s father-in-law happened in the middle of the trip and film
  • The challenges that Tony and his brother faced during the trip
  • The similarities and differences amongst Taiwan’s indigenous tribes
  • How the lives of indigenous peoples changed overnight when the Japanese removed them from their villages in the mountains
  • How have the indigenous peoples of Taiwan have adjusted over time
  • Social issues facing young indigenous peoples
  • The story of an indigenous policeman, Sakino who created a hunting, survival club through with he passed down indigenous knowledge
  • The most memorable moments of Tony’s 2004 trip to Taiwan
  • The abandoned village in the mountains (in Pintung) that Tony visited in the documentary film
  • How the 16 tribes now recognized in Taiwan were mostly originally mountainous tribes because the lowland tribes have been assimilated so long ago
  • Research has shown that more than 70% of Taiwanese have some indigenous DNA


 Related Links:



A link to the “Village in the Clouds” article about Tony’s trip to Taiwan in 1996 that led him to discover his indigenous roots:


Film Director Wei Te-sheng:


Voices in the Clouds, the documentary based on Tony’s 2004 trip to Taiwan:



Indigenous Bridges programs of the Atayal organization:



Video footage from indigenous language competitions:


General information about Taiwan’s indigenous people:


About the Host

Felicia Lin is the Host and Producer of Talking Taiwan, a podcast which seeks to introduce you to interesting stories connected to Taiwan and the diverse individuals who make up Taiwan’s global community.

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