Snubbed: Ngambri people accuse Assembly and ABC

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Ngambri elder Dr Matilda House… “The fact that the ACT parliament [and ABC News Canberra have] chosen to ignore the precedent set by the federal parliament… suggests that the omission is deliberate.”
IN separate letters to the ACT Legislative Assembly Speaker and to ABC News Canberra, Ngambri elder Dr Matilda House has expressed her dismay at both institutions ignoring the Ngambri people as being traditional custodians of Canberra. 

The ACT Legislative Assembly and ABC News Canberra recognise members of the Ngunnawal nation as descendants of the original inhabitants of this region, but there is no specific recognition of the Ngambri group outside of this broader acknowledgement.

Inconsistently, the House of Representatives acknowledges the Ngambri and the Ngunnawal people as traditional custodians of the Canberra area, and so does the ANU. 

“I, and my family, and those members of the local Aboriginal community who identify as Ngambri are devastated by your decision to deny, by omission, our connection to this land and our rights as traditional custodians,” Dr House wrote to the manager of ABC News Canberra and to ACT Legislative Assembly Speaker Joy Burch in seperate letters obtained by “CityNews”. 

“The fact that the ACT parliament [and ABC News Canberra have] chosen to ignore the precedent set by the federal parliament and fails to recognise the Ngambri [people] suggests that the omission is deliberate.” 

Dr House is concerned about the graphic displayed on the screen behind the 7pm ABC News Canberra presenter and newsreader, Dan Bourchier.

Dr House is particularly concerned about the ABC’s decision to display a graphic on the screen behind the 7pm presenter and newsreader, Dan Bourchier, which declares Canberra as “Ngunnawal country”.

“[This] ignores the pre-eminent and indisputable right of Ngambri people to be recognised as the traditional custodians of this country,” wrote Dr House, who has been pushing for the Ngambri people to be recognised for decades. 

In the letters, Dr House points out that the genealogy of the Ngambri people has been formally documented, and “CityNews” has been alerted to a detailed summary of the historical evidence relating to the Ngambri people, written by Ann Jackson-Nakano, and published by ANU Press in 2001 called “The Kamberri: a history from the records of Aboriginal families in the Canberra-Queanbeyan district and surrounds 1820-1927 and historical overview 1928-2001”. 

This documented history has been ignored, and Dr House accuses the actions of the ABC and the Legislative Assembly as being a form of cultural genocide. 

“We see it as an attempt to rewrite history and in doing so to steal our identity and our connection and rights of this country,” she wrote. 

Now, Dr House is “respectfully requesting” the Legislative Assembly and ABC News Canberra to ensure that the errors of their blatant discrimination be addressed as a matter of urgency.

However, ABC News Canberra is standing by it’s decision to acknowledge Ngunnawal people alone, with a spokeswoman saying: “ABC Canberra took great care in developing the acknowledgment of country for the 7pm News.”

“We undertook a lengthy consultation with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and the United Ngunnawal Elders Council, including on the complexities of local land ownership, to ensure we observed the correct process and protocols. We are also in line with the conventions followed by the ACT government,” she said.

“ABC Canberra has been a champion of telling the stories of all Canberrans, including all of the indigenous groups that live here.”

Dr Matilda House’s son, Paul House, however, is perplexed by why, after a “lengthy consultation”, the Ngambri people were never party to it.

“The Ngambri people were never consulted in developing the acknowledgement of country for ABC and the Legislative Assembly,” Paul says.

“The federal government acknowledges the Ngambri during sitting times at the opening of the upper and lower house’s of parliament and in general. The ABC contradicts itself as they broadcast sitting times which acknowledge the Ngambri people.”

When “CityNews” questioned Legislative Assembly Speaker Joy Burch about the letter sent by Ms House, she said acknowledging the Ngambri people will be considered moving forward. 

“Understandably with two sitting days left for this current assembly term, we are unable to consider any changes to the new acknowledgment. The incoming members will need to consider the acknowledgement and any recommended changes,” Ms Burch said.

“The assembly has deep regard and respect for our Aboriginal community and will continue to work with the community in doing what we can to show that continued respect and regard. I am confident that incoming members will do all they can to resolve this issue also.”

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Danielle Nohra
Danielle Nohra is a "CityNews" staff journalist.

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