The closure of tribal centers would be a blow to the community

It’s impossible to stroll through the National Center of Indigenous Excellence without being struck by the palpable pride in the athletic achievements on display. From the Wallabies rugby jersey signed by all three Ella brothers, to plaques honoring Indigenous Olympians and Paralympians, to a photomontage celebrating Cathy Freeman. If you miss these, you’re likely to notice a gentle giant in the form of former rugby league champion Solomon Haumono, who runs a fitness class for a group of youngsters.

Cathy Freeman's athletic achievement is celebrated in the NCIE.

Cathy Freeman’s athletic achievement is celebrated in the NCIE.Recognition:Getty

The center has been a sanctuary for thousands of members of the local community since its inception in the heart of Redfern over a decade ago. It was a hub, a magnet, a home away from home. It has signaled a rejuvenating and regenerative resurgence in a corner of Australia once defined by crime and dysfunction.

Five days a week, numerous children are picked up after school, taken to the center by bus, given a healthy meal – for some the first of the day – and cared for in curated programmes. Six days a week, the place welcomes toddlers and teenagers, athletes and the elderly. It conducts leadership, fitness, culture and life skills programs. It runs social groups and youth groups. It features an aquatic center, 25 meter pool, basketball courts, gym and weight facilities.

But everything can collapse. He is threatened with closure, which would be a tragedy with unforeseeable consequences. It would be a shockingly short-sighted waiver of social, political and corporate responsibility by parties that should have recognized the exponential impact of closing the center and had the means to pool their resources and ensure that didn’t happen.

“We’re a safe place for kids to build life skills,” says Margaret Haumono, executive director of Redfern Youth Connect, a force of nature that does everything from running youth programs to meeting potential benefactors and securing that the center works on all cylinders. “Our children learn life skills here. You learn values. You learn to give back. They have experienced so much loss in their life; When we close, they’ll be back on the road.”

Margaret Haumono, co-founder and executive director of Redfern Youth Center, at a community meeting at the National Center for Indigenous Excellence to try to stop the center's closure.

Margaret Haumono, co-founder and executive director of Redfern Youth Center, at a community meeting at the National Center for Indigenous Excellence to try to stop the center’s closure.Recognition:Rhett Wyman

The crisis arose when the Commonwealth-owned Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation (ILSC) – which was set to assist indigenous peoples in acquiring land following the 1992 Mabo ruling – bought the former Redfern Public School. It set up the center and subsequently sold the property to the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, but negotiations between the two bodies broke down, with the $2 million annual operating loss being the critical factor in the impasse.

At a protest rally last Friday, Minister for Indigenous Affairs Linda Burney said the center must remain open, its programs and services must continue, its tenants must be permanent and its staff must keep their jobs.

A community meeting in defense of the NCIE. From left Lord Mayor Clover Moore, Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney and Tanya Plibersek, Member for Sydney.

A community meeting in defense of the NCIE. From left Lord Mayor Clover Moore, Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney and Tanya Plibersek, Member for Sydney.Recognition:Walter Peeters

https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/whole-community-will-suffer-if-indigenous-centre-closes-20220808-p5b84l.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_national_nsw The closure of tribal centers would be a blow to the community

Joel McCord

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