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JackJumpers Indigenous themed jersey scrapped over culture clash

Andrew Mathieson -

Tasmania JackJumpers have felt compelled to drop their proposed Indigenous jersey over specific Aboriginal artwork claims, just four days ahead of the team's next home game.

A complaint lodged from the Tasmania Aboriginal Centre has told the third-year basketball club that its dot art feature misrepresents Palawa-pakana techniques and is not a part of their story.

Palawa mobs from the centre say to misappropriate the design off another Indigenous culture and style from the mainland is "highly offensive".

Scrapping the themed jersey has left the JackJumpers forced to wear one of its regular jerseys while nine other NBL clubs proudly don the work of their local Indigenous artists.

The controversy has opened up a debate on whether Aboriginal customs and traditions evolve, and what part does the system of lore, the body of knowledge on matters dealing with stories, beliefs and spirituality play that some mobs hold on tightly as the custodians to pass onto the next generations by word of mouth.

The JackJumpers, for their part, admitted they did not consult with the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre or its community beforehand, but are purportedly still standing by the work of Huon Valley Indigenous artist Reuben Oates.

The club's front office released a statement on Tuesday afternoon that did not attach specific responsibility for the outcome, but "respectfully acknowledge concerns expressed by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre".

"The club acknowledges there should have been further consultation with (Tasmania) Aboriginal community throughout selection and artistry process, and it will continue to work closely with the broader Tasmanian Aboriginal community moving forward," the statement said.

"The JackJumpers have undertaken extensive cultural awareness education, having previously worked with the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, and the Aboriginal Elders Council of Tasmania and University of Tasmania."

The club's design that roused up the state on Tuesday featured an Indigenous interpretation of its Jack Jumper mascot and moniker, an often ferocious and venomous ant frequently populated in Tasmania, over a circular series of green and gold dots with the state's Palawa name Lutrawita.

The JackJumpers eventually consulted with the NBL before deciding not to wear their Indigenous jersey against Brisbane Bullets at the Silverdome in Launceston.

"It was never the club's intention to cause a division within the broader Tasmanian Aboriginal community, and we apologises if members of the community have been affronted by the artwork's style," the statement said.

"The club is committed to uniting the community."

The Tasmanians are one of five of the 10 teams without one of the six Indigenous players on their roster while the visiting Bullets are expected to arrive this week with Torres Strait Islander Tamuri Wigness to face the JackJumpers.

JackJumpers chief executive Christine Finnigan did not take the blame, but did appear after the club's statement to sincerely renounce their actions.

"Could the process be improved? Absolutely?" she told WIN Tasmania. "And I certainly will be working with them all into the future to make sure that's the case."

NBL Indigenous round activities and celebrations will still proceed at the game, but retailers have been ordered to take the jerseys off racks.

Several hundreds of the popular Indigenous fashion pieces, though, had already been sold.

Oates said his aim with the design was to celebrate a proud Tasmanian Aboriginal culture, and the Tasmania JackJumpers as the state's one tribe.

One the most eminent Indigenous artists around Hobart added that he frankly cannot understand what all the fuss is about after using similar painting techniques in Tasmania for the past 20 years without facing any reprehensible consequences.

"Dots are dots – I don't know what else to say," Oates said at a press conference.

"I am just going to keep doing what I am doing because I know what I am doing is just not wrong."

JackJumpers fans took to the club's Facebook page to throw their support behind Oates, prompting a movement for ticketholders that have already bought their Indigenous jerseys to wear the dots to the arena on Saturday evening.

Others on the JackJumpers page have scourged the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre over accusations of slandering the artist's good name.

Speaking on behalf of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, Rulla Kelly-Mansell believes dot painting to represent Palawa culture is tantamount to employing plagiarism from other mobs.

"Although (the design) might look nice, what you see on that jersey is really highly offensive to the Palawa-pakana and to community and to culture," Kelly-Mansell said.

"It's not anyone's decision to decide culture – culture is culture – and it's a part of us just like we're a part of it."

Kelly-Mansell had a conversation with the club's administration and claims that the JackJumpers told him that despite agreeing to withdraw the jersey, "they stand by their decision" based on the artist's ancestral claim.

The former Tasmanian State League footballer for North Launceston, who is also a big fan of the JackJumpers, admitted he did not want to call out his club, but is also keeping faith the whole organisation will make the right decision to move forward together.

"This is a pivotal moment for them to actually do what's right, ethically," Kelly-Mansell said.

"We want to see them do well because they represent us.

"The privilege they have as an organisation to represent our culture on their jersey needs to be done with respect."

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