‘This is the last bastion’: Cut and run tactics leave future of community center hanging in the balance

The National Aboriginal Center of Excellence (NCIE), located at 180 George Street in Redfern, has served the local Aboriginal community for 16 years. The NCIE opened in 2006 on the former Redfern Public School site and offers sports, fitness, lectures and community classes, including tutoring and educational support. With the Aboriginal Medical Service located at the corner of Redfern Street and the Aboriginal Legal Service two blocks away, the local community considers the NCIE to be a vital part of Redfern’s network of Aboriginal support services.

While the process of gentrification forever changed the social and cultural landscape of Redfern, the center remained an important meeting place for local indigenous people.

It became the base of operations for Redfern Youth Connect, the National Aboriginal Sporting Chance Academy and the Tribal Warrior Association. Local Elders use the center’s pool and gymnasium alongside children learning to swim. Secondary students receive tutoring and learn job skills such as hospitality. Young mothers and working parents rely on the center for after-hours care, where their children receive food, cultural and social support.

A recent estimate found that every dollar spent on the center creates three times more value for the local Aboriginal community.

However, last Monday staff at the center – the majority of whom are local Indigenous youth – were told they were being made redundant and offered a one-time payment of $700 as compensation. Dozens of employees were evacuated from the premises. Some were crying on the sidewalk. All were asked to sign non-disclosure statements as a condition of receiving their severance packages.

The decision to close the NCIE came after the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation (ILSC) failed to reach an agreement with the NSW Aboriginal Land Council over the future of the Redfern centre. Recently appointed NCIE CEO Jasmine Ryan expressed concern over the decision.

“Everyone is fired,” Ryan said.

“We have a large number of First Nations employees here, many of whom grew up in the community.

Ryan says staff received little notice of the closure and the future of NCIE remains uncertain.

“From what they told us, those negotiations basically failed, they couldn’t come to an agreement and because of that, the ILSC made the decision to shut down the NCIE,” he said. she declared. Honi.

The Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation is a federal agency that acquires millions of dollars in land and sea assets for use by Indigenous communities. ILSC purchased the NCIE site at Redfern in 2010, with the NSW Aboriginal Land Council taking ownership in June of that year.

In a joint statement, the ILSC and the Land Council said they had worked in “good faith” to reach an agreement on the management of the centre.

“Unfortunately, we have not been able to reach agreement on the terms of continued support for the organization and as a result it will be closing,” the statement read.

“We are disappointed with the result and will work to support affected personnel.”

The Aboriginal Land Council said it remained committed to working with stakeholders to ensure a smooth transition for relocated staff, asset redistribution and compensation schemes.

Land Council chairman Dan Chapman stressed that tenants of NCIE facilities would still have limited access to the building before it closed.

“In the meantime, the land council will work to provide community members with safe access to the center’s fitness and aquatics facility,” he said.

But a project manager at Inner-Sydney Empowered Communities said no one from ILSC or NSWALC had communicated this to stakeholders.

“Everyone is really worried and nobody has told us anything,” they said.

“This is the last bastion. We don’t want to be diluted out of here either.

The issue gained national attention last Tuesday following a statement by Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, who described the center as “the beating heart of the Redfern Aboriginal community”.

“I strongly encourage the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation and the NSW Aboriginal Land Council to work together to find a solution,” she said on Twitter.

After an extensive social media campaign championed by local community organization Redfern Youth Connect, hundreds of residents gathered outside the NCIE last Wednesday to protest the closure of the center and pressure the ILSC and NSWALC to reopen negotiations.

Aunty Margaret Haumono, co-founder and executive director of Redfern Youth Connect, described the situation she and the community find themselves in as “devastating”.

“I have kids asking me, ‘Aunty Marg, where are we going? What are we going to do?'” she said.

“This place is not just a gym and a swimming pool for us. This place is a meeting point.

Aunty Marg was one of more than 400 people who turned out at the community center on Wednesday to demand an investigation into the closure.

“It’s disgusting, and we demand an independent investigation into the divestment process.”

Last Friday there were scenes of overwhelming emotion, relief and cautious celebration as the immediate closure of the NCIE was averted thanks to government intervention.

Linda Burney, along with Federal Minister Tanya Plibersek, announced that the center had been granted a stay of execution, meaning the center would continue to operate precariously as tense negotiations between the ILSC and NSWALC reopen.

“Here’s the gist,” Burney said, addressing rugby league players, boxers and wrestlers, members of the community, as well as tenants and staff at the centre.

“I want to see tenants who work out of NCIE given tenure… I want to see this place stay open and most importantly people keep their jobs.

“Voices need to be heard on this and the fact that you have so many people here, hundreds of people, is a very strong voice.

“It can’t be impossible that people sit down and negotiate in good faith because this joint is important.

“To the parties involved, pull yourself together and sort this out.”

This was punctuated by a statement from the ILSC last Saturday, which said negotiations between the Commonwealth and NSWALC were complete and an agreement had been reached on the future of the centre. The NSWALC responded promptly with a statement stating that no such agreement had been reached and that the ILSC statement had been made without consultation or endorsement by any other stakeholder.

It seems, for now at least, that the future of the NCIE will remain unknown. As the center continues to operate some services at a reduced capacity and host protests — like the noon sit-in on Monday — tense negotiations continue as federal politicians and community stakeholders try to mediate the talks.

It definitely won’t be the last time Honi reports on this ongoing crisis in Redfern.

The Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation declined Honi’s request for comment.