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Indigenous Politician Told Not To Speak Her Traditional Language In Parliament

"The language of the assembly is English."

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Northern Territory minister for housing Bess Nungarrayi Price has lost a request to speak her traditional language, Warlpiri, in the assembly.

In December, during a debate over education in the NT legislative assembly, Price became frustrated with Labor MPs continually interrupting her remarks and said, "we always hear you, speaking all the time".

The problem was not the words, but the language they were spoken. Price said it in her traditional tongue, the Warlpiri language.

This prompted several Labor MPs to complain to the speaker to the NT speaker Kezia Purick who then warned Price about disorderly conduct.

"For the transaction of everyday business the language of the assembly is English," Purick said.

"On that basis, should a member use a language other than English without the leave of the assembly it will be ruled disorderly and the Member will be required to withdraw the words".

An upset Price then sent a letter to Purick seeking permission to speak her traditional language to speak her traditional language in the assembly.

Scott Barbour / Getty Images

"I am determined to be tenacious in relation to the use of my language. I am seeking permission to use my first language to make statements or answer questions should I see with an appropriate English interpretation following," Price wrote.

Purick wrote to Price denying her request.

"The assembly has transacted its business in the English language since its inception in 1974 and all Australian parliaments have the same practice".

Purick goes onto say that if Aboriginal languages from the Northern Territory were allowed to be spoken in the assembly it would be a "complex and costly exercise".

"I don't see why we shouldn't be able to use our own languages. Because that way we would be far more confident and our people would understand much more clearly what we are saying on their behalf," Price has told the ABC.

Price questioned why Indigenous people, particularly in the Northern Territory where English is often a second language for Aboriginal people, were not allowed to use the language they had spoken for thousands of years with an immediate translation for the assembly after.

Price says she will challenge the standing orders and petition to have the rule changed.

Formerly with BuzzFeed News, Allan Clarke is a NITV reporter based in Sydney.

Contact Allan Clarke at

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