Indigenous groups fight over ownership
CRYSTAL JAAugust 6, 2009
Rival indigenous groups remain split over the right to call Canberra home, despite efforts by the ACT government to end the two-year debate once and for all.
Chief Minister Jon Stanhope on Thursday reaffirmed the Ngunnawal people as the traditional owners of Canberra, hoping to quell a debate that has raged between two Aboriginal groups.
But one Ngambri elder has promised not to give up the fight, calling the Ngunnawal Elders Council - the ACT's indigenous networking body - "corrupt" and "built on a lie".
The long-running Ngunnawal-Ngambri debate came to a head in April when five signs on the Canberra border were defaced to include the Ngambri name.
The Ngunnawal Elders Council, distressed by the claims, urged the government to intervene.
Mr Stanhope responded by issuing a set of official protocols, not only identifying the Ngunnawal people as the traditional owners, but also requesting they be acknowledged in all public speeches.
The government stood by their belief Ngunnawal had claims to the land, he said, noting the rival faction had once acknowledged themselves to be Ngunnawal before changing to Ngambri.
Respected Ngunnawal elder Matilda House has been a key figure in the debate, after she jumped ship early last year, denouncing her links to Ngunnawal and claiming Ngambri heritage.
Ngambri elder Shane Mortimer said his people would not lay down until the ACT government stood up for the rights of the forgotten.
"We are far from a spent force," he told AAP.
"I'll take it as far as I need to take for the Ngambri people to be identified as the owners of this land."
Mr Stanhope said the government took its direction as advised by the Ngunnawal council - "corrupt advice", Mr Mortimer said.
But the council's Glenda Hyde returned fire, calling the Ngambri group "vandals" who had disrespected the whole of the Canberran community - indigenous and non-indigenous - with their wild claims.
"To them it's about building an empire, they've jumped from group to group to group, never mind the Ngunnawal have been around for 10,000 years," she said.
"But they gave us a big break, by vandalising those signs, they vandalised themselves."
They had caused deep distress to Ngunnawal families, with their attempt to "rewrite history" by inventing a new tribe.
There was no historical data to support their claims to the Canberra region, although she admitted there was more research to be done about their origins.
She again appealed to Mr Mortimer to meet with the council, which he has repeatedly rebuffed.
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