Gurindji Traditional Owners have accused Victoria Daly Regional Council of blocking self-determination in a dispute over ownership of the Kalkarindji Social Club.
In Kalkarindji – a small town 480km from Katherine – community spokesman and Traditional Owner, Rob Roy, claims the council has back-flipped on promises to hand the club enterprise back to the community.
However, Victoria Daly Regional Council said they are acting on community concerns.
The community marched in protest over the weekend during Freedom Day Festival, which celebrates the Land Rights Anniversary of the Wave Hill Walk-off, 52 years ago.
"This is yet another case of government trying to control our people,” Mr Roy said.
The Gurindji are famous for the 1966 Wave Hill Walk-off led by Vincent Lingiari and their long struggle for Aboriginal Land Rights.
"We Gurindji have fought for the rights of Aboriginal people for over half a century and here we are in 2018 dealing with the same old issues of false promises and government control," Mr Roy said.
The Social Club was established as a Gurindji owned enterprise in 1998.
Mr Roy said Traditional Owners saw the need to provide a safe drinking environment for the community, and to reduce alcohol related deaths on remote highways.
However, with the amalgamation of NT Councils in 2008 control of the club was transferred to the new Victoria Daly Shire Council based 470km away in Katherine, Mr Roy said.
“Despite correspondence from council agreeing to transfer ownership of the enterprise by 2016 to the Gurindji Aboriginal Corporation - the representative body of Kalkarindji Traditional Owners - Vic Daly Council are now refusing with no explanations provided,” Mr Roy said.
"We Traditional Owners built the club to keep our people out of trouble in Katherine and to stop losing our loved ones,” Traditional Owner Rosyln Frith said.
“Profits were put back into communities well being.
"Running pubs is not council's core business. lt's a shame that on one side we have the Territory Government being so supportive of our community enterprise, but on the other side our local council doesn't seem to get it that our enterprise needs to be in our hands.
"We've done everything in good faith. We're the ones creating new jobs, improving housing, building new community facilities, supporting youth and culture. We haven't received a penny from the club profits in years which threatens our capacity," she said.
Mr Roy said Gurindji Aboriginal Corporation is now questioning Vic Daly’s capacity to govern the business from so far away.
"We've been requesting finances and minutes of meetings since the council has controlled the club but are being ignored. Meetings are all behind closed doors so what are they hiding? Our patience has now run out and we'll now be contacting liquor licensing," Mr Roy said.
The Victoria Daly Regional Council responded today saying they were disappointed in the media campaign launched by the Gurindji Aboriginal Corporation pressuring the council over ownership of the club.
“The club is a part of the community and it is important that the club is well managed,” a Victoria Daly Regional Council spokeswoman said.
“In November 2017 the council referred the matter of the Kalkarindji Social Club to the Audit and Risk Management Committee for consideration.
“In February 2018, council adopted the recommendations of the Audit and Risk Management Committee and reappointed the Arnhem Land Progress Association to manage the Kalkarindji Social Club for a period of three years.
“The Gurindji Aboriginal Corporation was on all occasions, informed about the process and decisions made by council.
“The Arnhem Land Progress Association is widely acknowledge as a leading Indigenous organisation in the management of retail business in remote Indigenous communities.
“The services they provide are highly valued by council. The Gurindji Aboriginal Corporation also engages the Arnhem Land Progress Association to manage their community store in Kalkarindgi.
“The serving and management of alcohol in a community that has had significant violence is a serious business and council takes this role very seriously.
Making the club a family friendly place is the Victoria Daly Regional Council’s main priority, the spokeswoman said.
“We have invested in new ovens and have been working on a child safe area. We have listen to community concerns and acted on them.
“It is important that the silent majority in the community and those that don’t drink are able to raise concerns with council regarding the operation and impact of the club.
“The council remains committed to ensuring that the club operates to benefit all members of the community.
The Victoria Daly Regional Council operates a wide range of services in Kalkarindji including night patrols, aged care, the Remote School Attendance Program and the Community Development Program.
“We are the largest employer in the community and remain committed to creating and sustaining Indigenous employment opportunities. We have 34 staff in Kalkarindji, of which 79 per cent are Indigenous,” the spokeswoman said.
“Council opened the door to discussion with Gurindji Aboriginal Corporation months ago but the Gurindji Aboriginal Corporation failed to make those meetings to discuss a partnership approach to a wide range of activities in the community.
“Council remains open to dialogue regarding a partnership approach with the Gurindji Aboriginal Corporation,” she said.