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The contribution of homelands to traditional owners

By Jimmy Pascoe - posted Friday, 19 June 2009

It took Marion Scrymgour’s resignation from the Northern Territory Labor Government to force Chief Minister Paul Henderson to agree to do more research about, and economic modeling of, the Territory's ancestral lands with a view, we hope, to changing the homelands policy.

The NT Government hasn't clearly set out the implications of the plan to create 20 regional economic and education hubs from selected existing towns (15 of which will also be funded by the Commonwealth).

Which existing homelands will be abandoned? Which homeland bilingual schools will be closed? And why? Traditional owners and their families are concerned we run the risk of losing our languages.


The policy as so-far described may force many of us in West Arnhem to move to larger centres to get access to services, upending our traditional links and potentially exposing us and our children to more of the alcohol, violence and drug abuse that are more common in large centres.

We are very concerned. But it need not have come to this, had the government genuinely consulted us. When Mr Henderson visited Maningrida this year he appeared to listen but then seemed to twist our stories to make them fit his own.

Sometimes we feel like we are part of a game we can’t play.

And it keeps changing, Maybe next month there will be another new policy, then next year another, all the time without actually talking with us about what works best for us.

Indigenous Policy Minister Alison Anderson is wrong when she says that “money spent on rarely-inhabited communities is wasted”.

Some residents of the 32 outstations around Maningrida live in their homelands all year; others nearly all year. "This is my home. This is where I feel safe," they say again and again.


Travelling to the homelands is not easy, even with latest Toyota Land Cruiser. The roads are heavily corrugated and turn what could be short trips into unsafe long journeys.

The NT Government says it will continue to fund outstations within a certain radius of the hubs, but only if the homeland residents agree to stay on them 80 per cent of year. Many would like to, but won't if the services and roads are unreliable, especially during the wet season. It’s a Catch 22.

If Chief Minister Henderson is now serious about examining the contribution of homelands, he won’t tar all homelands or outstations with the same brush. Indigenous communities are as diverse as Indigenous languages.

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About the Author

Jimmy Pascoe is a traditional owner and Chairman of Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation based at Maningrida in West Arnhem Land.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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