Broken Hill’s influential Aboriginal Community Working Party (CWP) has slammed Broken Hill City Council for what it calls racism after a decision made by a majority of councillors will see Traditional Landowners no longer paid for performing the Welcome to Country.
The change will also affect other Indigenous ceremonial customs, including Smoking Ceremonies.
The CWP points out the move comes during Reconciliation Week, and just a day before the nation celebrates the important commemoration of MABO Day.
It also comes in the same week Broken Hill City Council announced a multi-thousand dollar ratepayer funded public survey asking a small number of residents – 350 – whether the Council is doing a good job, or not. A final dollar cost for the survey has not been worked out yet but Council confirmed to us it will be, “somewhere round $25,000”.
Meanwhile, local First People claim the move to stop the payments for Welcome to Country and other ceremonial customs – originally put forward by a working group of councillors – was made without consulting any elders, Traditional Custodians, the CWP, or any members of the local Aboriginal community.
“This smacks of privilege, disrespect and let’s call it out – this is ‘RACISM’ and sadly from a Council which is tone deaf to the significant contribution made to this community every day by Aboriginal community members, workers, artists, musicians, rangers, over the last 60,000 years,” said CWP Chair Paul Kemp and Deputy Chair Denise Hampton in a joint statement put out on Friday morning.
“Refusing 28 days consultation and not consulting with our Aboriginal community is a bias against all First Nations people,” the statement says.
“Where is this current council’s commitment to creating a community that walks together toward a shared future?
“We call upon Broken Hill City Council to immediately withdraw its decision and meet with the CWP and Traditional custodians to discuss how we can put reconciliation back on track for our community,” the statement says.
The furore began with an item introduced at the latest ordinary council meeting with a suggested amendment to the Civic and Ceremonial Functions and Representation Policy that said, “Traditional Owners be invited to perform a Welcome to Country at the commencement of official events at no financial cost to Council”.
At the moment – in common with most other council areas Australia-wide – a small sum is paid to Aboriginal folks who perform a Welcome to Country – typically at citizenship ceremonies or when a new council is voted in, for example, and for other special Council community events.
The amendment to stop funding for ceremonial customs was voted through by councillors, with only two – Darriea Turley and Marion Browne – voting against the change.
Councillor Turley told the Truth she was, “deeply disappointed with how it played out”.
The ex-Labor Mayor moved an amendment that would have seen the decision go out to 28 days public consultation.
“I moved an amendment, and it was supported by councillor Browne and councillor Page that was lost. We continued to express our concerns that we considered it a significant change when it was put to the vote.
“I hope that going forward, we hear the concerns raised by the Aboriginal Working Party and by the Traditional Landowners,” Cllr Turley said.
CWP Deputy Chair, Denise Hampton, spoke as a representative for the Indigenous community at the May council meeting where the issue came up and said it should have been put up for public discussion.
“I feel really disappointed that council has [made this decision] and decided not to [put it up for] public comment,” said Ms Hampton at the meeting.
The issue has exploded on Facebook, too, with the Mayor’s post on the change attracting supporters, as well as others calling him and the Council out for what some perceive as ‘racism’ and ‘white privilege’.
One commenter said, “The only way it is a PRIVILEGE for Aboriginal people to perform a Welcome to Country on their own country is when the people who think they are in control of the land try to gatekeep Aboriginal peoples own cultural traditions from them, then try to tell them that it’s a privilege to practice them and not pay them.”
Not all comments were against the decision, with Cllr Kennedy’s supporters not surprisingly making themselves heard too.
“I don’t think any money should change hands. And I really do believe that these ceremonies are overdone overused and have lost any meaning. I know I have tuned out,” one Facebook user said.
Mayor Kennedy was quick to tell the Truth he dismissed any claims of racism and said in the past 12 months half the invitations to the Indigenous community to perform Welcome to Country rituals have been no shows, though he couldn’t supply us with a total number of Welcome to Country performances.
“There have been probably between five and 10 invitations. And half of those have been attended, often not attended,” he said, pointing to a recent citizenship ceremony where he claimed the invitation had been accepted and yet was a no-show.
“I reject all connotations of racism,” said the Mayor.
“I have spoken to [CWP Chairman] Paul Kemp, who’s a good friend of mine and he’s making arrangements to meet with myself and council next week,” Cllr Kennedy told the Truth.