Ghillar Michael Anderson has an abiding memory of the time he and fellow activists first set up the Aboriginal Tent Embassy on the lawns of Old Parliament House.
The ACT police commissioner stopped by the site - then just a sign - and asked, casually, how long they intended to be there.
"The thing that's stuck in my mind right to this day was Billy Craigie's response, when he said 'Well, we'll be here until they give us land rights'," Mr Anderson said.
"He said, 'that's going to be a long time', and we agreed. And so he walked away and left it at that - done."
Fifty years after that day, Mr Anderson is preparing, along with many in his community and throughout Australia, to commemorate the embassy's anniversary.
There will be a full program of events around the anniversary on January 26, including workshops, seminars, concerts and a march from the National Film and Sound Archive, and Mr Anderson had no intention of allowing recent events to hijack these plans.
A group of protesters with links to the anti-vaccination movement set fire to the doors of Old Parliament House on December 30, destroying the portico and seriously damaging the heritage entrance.
Mr Anderson said this group had nothing to do with the original ambitions of the Tent Embassy founders.
Back then, he said, he and his own cohort were looking to the Civil Rights movement in America, the plight of native Americans, and various protests in India and Africa for inspiration on how to move forward with their own cause.
"The idea was to set up a permanent vigil, and we wanted to get right in their faces, you know, and we couldn't get more in their faces than where we ended up," he said.
But the recent actions of protesters on the site were at odds with what the Tent Embassy represented.
"Right now I'm watching the media and the public respond emotively, and not really consider what's really going on," he said.
"And also, I appreciate the fact that those who are what they're doing and who have done things in the last couple of weeks, they've made it very clear that they are not from the Aboriginal embassy.
"And so we need to separate the two."
He said the main thing setting them apart from the Tent Embassy was their actions in getting their point across.
"I think what we need is respect, and [the fire] was a sign of disrespect," he said.
"We don't have to be destructive and those of us involved with the embassy have never been destructive in the past and we don't intend to be in the future.
"We come from a people who are non-violent - we're violent when you go against us of course, we confront it, just like everybody else, but that's not our culture, that's not our background."
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