The recent article by Nicolas Rothwell in the Inquirer section of The AustralianDays of promise in Tiwi plan” (19 August 2006) has angered the Tiwi people.

In a community meeting held at Nguiu last Wednesday, the President of the Nguiu Community Management Board, Gawain Tipiloura, spoke to the crowd about the hurt and offence that this article has caused.

The article described the Tiwi community as being divided along racial lines, between “full-blood Tiwis” and “part-Tiwis”, and stated that this divide “underlies everything”. The article declared that this division was reflected in the membership of the two governing bodies on the Tiwi islands — the Tiwi Land Council and the Tiwi Islands Local Government (TILG).

The Tiwi in fact see themselves as one people, and while the two organisations have had their differences, both TILG members and Land Council members have a united vision for the future of the Tiwi islands. The article’s statement that “TILG is the kingdom of the part-Tiwi” is one that has caused great offence to TILG members. TILG asserts that it is a democratically elected body which represents all Tiwi people, and does not concern itself with the racial ancestry of its members, staff or constituents.

It has long been accepted in Australian law that a person of Aboriginal descent is recognised as being Aboriginal if they identify themselves as being Aboriginal and their community recognises them as such. The “blood-quantum” definition of Aboriginality (which was never accepted by Aboriginal communities themselves) has been abandoned since the 1950s, and it is discouraging to see it resurface in 2006 in a major Australian newspaper.

This has caused offence, not just to TILG members, but also to the wider Tiwi community including those involved in the Tiwi Land Council. Minister Marion Scrymgour has also expressed her disappointment. During the meeting, community members made the observation that if all Tiwi people examined their ancestry, then many would in fact have links to non-Tiwi groups, both indigenous and otherwise.

Minister Scrymgour, in her address to NT Parliament made the following statement:

Long before white settlement in the NT, Tiwi men intermarried with women from other Aboriginal tribes and groups, including the Larrakia and the Iwaidja. That tradition has continued to this day. I was angered and saddened by the false analysis adopted in the article about the “part Tiwi”.

Many senior TILG and Tiwi Land Council members are close family, therefore the assertion that the two organisations are divided along ethnic lines is also clearly incorrect. Towards the end of Wednesday’s meeting, the community began calling for the resignation of John Hicks, the Secretary/CEO of the Tiwi Land Council.

TILG members state that Mr Hicks has been involved in the Tiwi Land Council for approximately 20 years, and they say it is time for him to go. They feel he does not represent the interests of the Tiwi people. It is surprising that the article in the Inquirer, which placed such emphasis on race, failed to mention that the individual who has played a major role in the Tiwi Land Council for two decades is a non-Tiwi who resides in Darwin.

A petition is expected to be drawn up and circulated. TILG has contacted the Australian newspaper and requested a retraction of the comments which caused offence. However, there has been no retraction to date. A letter has also been sent to the Australian, from both the President of the TILG, Maralumpuwi Kurrupuwu, and the Chairman of the Tiwi Land Council, Robert Tipungwuti, stating their disappointment with the article and identifying the inaccuracies — particularly in painting TILG and Land Council as being at loggerheads.

Peter Fray

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