Community members staged a sit-in on 8th August to protest the closure of the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence (NCIE), a place that has provided vital community support and services to the Indigenous population since reopening its doors to the public in 2010.
The NCIE is a not-for-profit organisation that opened following the Indigenous Land & Sea Corporation’s (ILSC) purchase of land from the former Redfern Public School.
The Redfern site has been the centre of local outrage, with hundreds protesting the sudden closure of the centre after staff were told that the organisation was set to close with seven days’ notice. The news to shut down the NCIE came about when the ILSC had been unable to reach an agreement with the land council on the future of the Redfern community centre.
Director of Redfern Youth Connect (RYC) Margaret Haumono called on community members to come together and support one another during this time, asserting that “if these doors close, they will never open again.”
Haumono stated that discussions had been continuing since last Monday when staff had been given notice of the Redfern site’s closure, where they were offered severance payments and non-disclosure statements to sign. Staff rejected the offer and were supported by the community, who have turned up at the Centre every day since then in protest of the decision.
Tribal Warrior Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Shane Phillips described the sweeping impact that the closure would have on the Indigenous community, noting the “children, elders, staff, families in the area”, who would lose everything the hub has to offer. The NCIE has provided support services including sports, fitness, community classes and conferences since it first opened.
Phillips declared that the fight to protect the NCIE was “not about finance” but about “our well-being, culture, happiness, joy and safety.”
“Let this be the beginning of this action, it’s simple. It’s been around for thousands of years and it’s who we are,” Phillips said.
Recommendations To The Government
The RYC have called upon the NSW and Federal government to recognise their recommendations during the fight to keep the NCIE open.
Recommendations include: the continued employment of all NCIE staff, that the ILSC and NSWALC must “confirm” that the NCIE site will not be sold, for the NSWALC to agree that income from the NCIE site will be utilised towards funding current NCIE operations and activities, and a commitment by the ILSC and the NSWALC to commit “the necessary funds to continue NCIE operations for a minimum of three years” to aid in planning a more “sustainable model while still delivering to the community.”
Australian Greens Senator David Shoebridge advocated for the continuation of NCIE operations and spoke of his support to ensure that “this remains in perpetuity, an Aboriginal run, Aboriginal controlled, grassroots organisation in Redfern.”
The ILSC released a statement that said that there had been communication with “key stakeholders” which enabled the continued operation of the fitness and aquatic services. The announcement has been made in anticipation of the ILSC and the NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) agreeing on the transfer of ownership and operation of these services.
However, the NSWALC responded by stating that an arrangement “had not been reached” and criticised the ILSC for making an announcement “unilaterally without NSWALC’s agreement.”
Community members will be continuing their indefinite sit-in at the Redfern site in the hopes that a dialogue with the ILSC and government will bring negotiations to the floor and keep the NCIE open.