A legal challenge seeking to overturn an ACT Government policy that claims the Ngunnawal people are the only traditional owners in the Territory has been mentioned in court before a hearing next year.
“This case is about giving respect and honour to all people in all parts of the country,” Ngambri and Ngunnawal custodian Paul Girrawah House said outside the ACT Supreme Court on Friday (4 November).
Mr House launched the case with his mother, Dr Matilda House.
“It’s also about truth-telling. Truth-telling is very important.”
Introduced in 2002, what has been called the “one tribe” policy involves the government recognising the Ngunnawal people as the sole traditional owners in the ACT.
Barrister Brodie Buckland, representing the Houses, said their case was not about supplanting the Ngunnawal but about getting rid of a policy that was inconsistent with the historical record and cultural truths.
He told the court on Friday that this case was about the human rights of the Ngambri people and the picture was much more complex than the “one tribe” policy would have the public believe.
He argued the government policy infringed on his clients’ rights and that the government should not be able to dictate who is and isn’t a traditional owner.
“This is something that should be determined by cultural truths,” Mr Buckland said.
Lawyer Annie Arnott represented the United Ngunnawal Elders Council in court and said her clients wanted to apply to join the legal proceedings.
When discussing the application, Chief Justice Lucy McCallum said she was concerned that if one voice were excluded, the court’s decision would not have the integrity needed to resolve the issue.
She said for the Houses to bring their cause to a colonial-established court required lateral thinking and part of that was how she would do her best to make it an inclusive process.
The challenge will return to court on 18 November to determine whether or not the Ngunnawal council will join the matter and a five-day hearing of the case has been listed for May 2023.