Next steps in fight for Indigenous centre

The ceremonial fire at an indigenous community center within Sydney has been extinguished as the struggle to keep doors open enters a new phase.

The fire started about two and a half weeks ago and has continued to burn ever since, fueled by community members who gathered at the site as they worked to secure its future.

Shane Phillips, chief executive of the Tribal Warrior Aboriginal Corporation, said the fire was an important recognition of Aboriginal elders and ancestors.

“We must honor their legacy … by sticking together, remembering this fire and keeping it burning for the right reasons, and the reasons are that we are a community, we care for each other,” Ms. Phillips Saturday.

“This fire will go out today, the wands of fire will replace them with a message, we will all take it in a different direction again,” he said.

Community members gathered at Redfern’s National Aboriginal Center of Excellence earlier this month after shocking news that it would be closed within seven days.

Neither the operator, the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation, nor the owner, the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, could agree on who covered the centre’s $ 2 million annual loss.

Mr. Phillips said community organizations are consolidating their requests for the center and meetings with ILSC and NSWALC are planned.

The goal is to find a sustainable business model so that the center does not need government support.

“As long as there’s no ink on the paper, it’s not completely gone,” he said.

Margaret Haumono, executive director of Redfern Youth Connect, said the negotiations are a first step.

“Finally, we have put them on the table,” he told the gathered in the center on Saturday.

“Now is the time for our community to be heard,” she added.

“Our first fight was for the children and this place was going to be taken away from them,” said Ms. Haumono along with her son Solomon.

He joined other children in piling sand on the fire to put it out on Saturday afternoon.

Ms. Haumono said keeping the center open is a legacy that needs to be left behind, even if it hasn’t been easy.

“It has been a wave of ups and downs for us here in the community, the biggest blessing is that we all stick together,” he said.

“They couldn’t divide us, we’re too strong here in Redfern.”

The journey to keep the center open is underway, although ILSC and NSWALC have agreed to continue operating the fitness and aquatic centers to continue community access on August 9, a day after the center closes.

The two governmental organizations also agreed “that a restoration of the relationship between the organizations and the community is necessary”.

Former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda assists the center in mediation with government organizations.

The center opened in 2010 on the site of the former Redfern Public School, which was bought by the New South Wales government from the Federal Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation.

Ownership of the site was transferred to the NSW Aboriginal Land Council in June.

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