- Ngambri leaders took the ACT government to court for breaching their human rights
- For the past two decades, the government has formally identified only the Ngunnawal people as Canberra’s traditional owners
- The government has now settled the case and apologised to the Ngambri people for any “hurt or distress” caused by failing to acknowledge them
The ACT government has apologised to the Ngambri people over its failure to recognise them as traditional owners of the Canberra area.
Members of the Ngambri — or Kamberri — people took the government to court over its Indigenous protocol, which listed only the Ngunnawal people as traditional custodians of the land.
The Ngambri community members argued the omission violated their human rights.
A settlement has now been reached after Ngambri custodians Leah House and Paul Girrawah House took the case to the ACT Supreme Court last year under the Human Rights Act.
On Thursday, the government apologised and acknowledged that Ms House and Mr House, along with other members of the Ngambri people, “have suffered hurt and distress as a result of the ACT Indigenous protocol”.
“The territory apologises to the plaintiffs, their witnesses, and other members of the Ngambri (Kamberri) community for the hurt and distress which they have suffered,” it said.
“The ACT government recognises the right of Aboriginal people to self-determination and that there is re-emerging knowledge about their history and connections with the land.
“We acknowledge that individuals and families who identify as Ngambri (Kamberri) have determined that they are traditional custodians of land within the ACT and surrounding regions, and that other people and families may also identify as having a traditional connection to this land.”
Following the settlement, the government said it would put in place an interim Indigenous protocol while it conducted a review of the policy.
“… we will engage closely with the First Nations community and traditional custodian families to ensure this is done in an inclusive way that supports healing in the local community,” it said.
“While this process is underway, the government will continue to acknowledge the Ngunnawal people as traditional custodians of the ACT while also recognising any other people or families with connection to the ACT and region.”
Other Canberra institutions did not follow the ACT government’s decision to identify only one Indigenous group with the capital.
Many federal government agencies and the Australian National University, for example, formally acknowledged both the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people as traditional owners.
The government also said it would change the wording of the first line of the Acknowledgement of Country to:
I/We wish to acknowledge the Ngunnawal people as traditional custodians of the land we are meeting on and recognise any other people or families with connection to the lands of the ACT and region.
I/We wish to acknowledge and respect their continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of this city and this region. I/We would also like to acknowledge and welcome other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may be attending today’s event.
ACT government hopes to ‘move forward together’ on ‘path to treaty’
ACT Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Rachel Stephen-Smith told ABC Radio Canberra the ACT government had always recognised Aboriginal people’s right to self-determination.
“In 2002 the ACT government — acting in good faith and in consultation with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, particularly the local Aboriginal community — acknowledged the Ngunnawal people as traditional custodians of the ACT,” she said.
“But the ACT government has always also recognised the right of Aboriginal people to self-determination, and we recognise that there is re-emerging knowledge about the history and connections to this land.”
Ms Stephen-Smith said the government would be opening consultation so the community could have its say on how the Indigenous protocol should be changed.
“We’re hoping that at this point, having settled this matter, that will clear the path for us to have those conversations with community about what those next steps are,” she said.
“Not only in reviewing the protocol but in how we engage with traditional custodians and find that pathway forward to recognising, repairing and healing those relationships – both within the community and between community and the ACT government – so that we can move forward together on that path to treaty.”