THE Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania has threatened to take the Tasmanian Government to the Federal Court if it changes a policy that guides the dual naming of significant sites.
The government’s review of the Aboriginal and dual naming policy is expected to be finalised soon.
The updated policy seeks to “broaden the scope” of groups that can nominate names, beyond using palawa kani. At the moment, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre uses recordings of Aboriginal people from the 19th and early 20th century – among other linguistic research – to determine palawa kani pronunciations and spelling.
ALCT chairperson Michael Mansell said he believed a government attempt to change this could be in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“Federal and state governments are restricted from passing laws or making administrative decisions which interfere with religion, freedom of speech and the language that belongs to different people,” he said.
“[palaka kani] is a compilation of all the languages that are known to have been legitimately and authentically recorded by someone, at some place, in different periods of time.
“Someone recorded that and got the pronunciation right. If the government legislates that that word is not allowed to be used, that would be in breach of Australia’s obligations.”
The review attracted 15 submissions, including from groups affiliated with the Tasmanian Regional Aboriginal Community Alliance, which believed it was “offensive” to use palawa kani to name places because it was a “Western linguistic construct”.
More on the development of palawa kani:
TRACA co-chairperson Rodney Dillon said there was never just one Aboriginal language and the policy should empower local groups.
“True self determination is about local people in local areas speaking the language of that area,” he said.
Mr Dillon said TRACA “aspires to honouring the ancestors by reviving the many languages that were spoken in Tasmania”. He described palawa kani as a “quasi-language”.
Mr Mansell said the TAC was supportive of this broader ambition to revive Aboriginal languages, but did not believe it was the state government’s place to interfere in the usage of palawa kani to name places.
The TAC and ALCT did not make a submission to the review, disagreeing with the process in principle.
As outlined it its issues paper, the Tasmanian Government found there were differences within the Tasmanian Aboriginal community over naming places and geographic features – particularly in the North-East.
“Some Aboriginal organisations that are based on local or regional connections are concerned that Aboriginal and dual naming is occurring in their local areas without their express involvement or approval,” the document reads.
The palawa kani language program began in the early 1990s.