Canberra traditional custodians reject Morrison government's Ngurra precinct

Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison speaks at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. Picture: Keegan Carroll
Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison speaks at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Some of Canberra's Aboriginal elders say they were not consulted about an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural precinct to be built in the Parliamentary Triangle, and have raised concerns about the inclusion of a national resting place.

The Ngurra precinct, announced on Wednesday morning, will be built based on a proposal from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS).

The $316.5 million precinct will include a learning centre, a national resting place to care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestral remains and a new base for AIATSIS, which is currently located adjacent to the National Museum of Australia on Acton Peninsula.

Speaking at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, Ngambri, Ngunnawal elder Dr Matilda House-Williams said the plans from AIATSIS did not represent the traditional custodians of the land, and the government had spoken to the wrong people.

"The respectful and honorable way to go about doing this [is that] Mr Morrison needs to talk to proper elders," Dr House-Williams said.

Dr House-William's son and Ngambri traditional owner, Paul House, also called a press release announcing the precinct "offensive" because it did not recognise the Ngambri people.

"The announcement appears to exclude the Ngambri people and the the acknowledgement of the Ngambri people and country here in the Parliamentary Triangle," he said.

"That doesn't work, that doesn't work for us: that's offensive, and excludes and continues that dispossession and intergenerational trauma."

The announcement from Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt on Wednesday stated the institution would be built "on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin in the Parliamentary Triangle, on Ngunnawal country (Canberra)."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison admires First Nations art works at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) during his announcement of the Ngurra Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Precinct. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Prime Minister Scott Morrison admires First Nations art works at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) during his announcement of the Ngurra Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Precinct. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Wiradjuri elder Jenny Munro said the government "only want to listen to one voice from Aboriginal people, not all voices."

A national resting place included in the precinct will mean "the remains of Indigenous Australians taken from their country will be cared for until they are able to be returned to their communities," Minister Wyatt said in the announcement.

"And in instances where provenance has been forgotten or erased, they will be cared for in perpetuity with dignity and respect."

The elders raised concerns about whether the resting place would be culturally appropriate.

"It's wrong, these old people need to be housed properly," Dr House-Williams said. She said a resting place should not be made in the Parliamentary Triangle, and this would not allow ancestors to rest in peace.

Chair of the Council of AIATSIS Jodie Sizer said in a statement "the inclusion of a National Resting Place is of vital importance, and is long overdue".

"Consultation on this concept dates back more than two decades," Ms Sizer said.

Responding to comments from elders and traditional custodians, an AIATSIS spokesperson said: "There was wide community consultation by AIATSIS in developing the business case that is the basis for the announcement by the government today, including consultation with local community leaders that occurred as late as yesterday."

"Further consultations, both local and national, will now follow the government's commitment to proceed with the Ngurra project."

Dr House-Williams said she had not been consulted about the precinct.

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This story Traditional custodians reject Ngurra precinct first appeared on The Canberra Times.