Ngunnawal Smoking Ceremony Cleanses, Inspires and Unites

Ngunnawal man performs a traditional smoking ceremony outside ACT HRC office.

It wasn’t a normal day at the office. As ACT Human Rights Commission staff headed downstairs to the front entrance of 11 Moore Street, Ngunnawal man Adrian Brown was firing up eucalypt leaves in a rough-hewn coolamon balanced on a spread of red-brown Canberra earth.

Adrian, son of a Ngunnawal family with deep roots in the land we all live and work on, graciously agreed to perform a traditional Aboriginal smoking ceremony for the Commission on Friday 24 November.

The invitation to Adrian was part of the Commission’s efforts to meaningfully act on section 27(2) of the ACT Human Rights Act 2004.

Section 27(2) recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ distinct cultural rights and their right to maintain, control and protect them in the ACT. It also requires the ACT Government to recognise and value the relationships that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have with land, waters and other resources under traditional laws and customs.

Natalie Brown, whose family ties include Gamilaroi, has worked hard for the Commission for the past six months to raise awareness of section 27(2), meeting with numerous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups to let them know about their cultural rights, and with various public authorities to ensure they understand their obligation to uphold cultural rights under the Human Rights Act.

But importantly, Natalie Brown has encouraged the Commission to do its own work, to “breathe life into cultural rights” by raising staff awareness and thinking about how to implement section 27(2) its daily work.

After calling on his ancestors, Adrian breathed sparks into life and thick, cleansing eucalyptus smoke clouded the building entrance before he gently carried the coolomon of smoking coals up the stairs and throughout the Commission’s offices, conference and conciliation rooms, trailed by welcoming staff, mesmerised and united in their appreciation of the spiritual significance of the ceremony.

This week Commission staff will be treated to more Ngunnawal cultural teaching.

Adrian will take them “on country” with a tour of Mt Ainslie, revealing Aboriginal landmarks and clan areas, including where pastoralists and Ngunnawal people first encountered each other.  At the foot of Mount Ainslie we’ll stop to honour the many thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders that have served in every Australian conflict since at least 1901.

The Commission encourages all ACT Government agencies to make their staff aware of the significance of section 27(2) of the Human Rights Act, and to consider how they too can bring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural rights to life within their organisation.

For more information on the HRC’s section 27(2) project and training contact: Natalie Brown or Gabrielle McKinnon on 62053158.