Treaty would be fitting tribute to justice warrior
Ifind it hard to put into words just how much this great Yolngu man achieved and how much we owe him. When he first became Chair of the Northern Land Council in 1977, the Fraser government had only just passed into law the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976.
He would be Chair almost continuously for the next quarter of a century.
Today, around 50 per cent of the land mass of the Territory, and almost all of the NT coastline, is Aboriginal freehold under the Land Rights Act.
Most of the remaining land is native title or subject to a native title claim.
All up, around 98 per cent of the Northern Territory is Aboriginal land under the land rights or native title regimes.
This is part of Yunupingu’s achievement.
But his achievements go well beyond the Northern Territory. He saw prime ministers and chief ministers come and go. We all know the story of the Yirrkala Bark Petitions in the 1960s.
They mark a proud moment for Yolngu people fighting for land rights, recognition and treaty. We know the story of the Barunga Statement, which he signed in 1988 with the then chairs of the other three NT land councils, and presented to Prime Minister Hawke.
The original statement hangs today in Parliament House in Canberra, a reminder of Hawke’s failure to deliver on his promise of a treaty.
But instead of getting angry and criticising Mr Hawke, Yunupingu called him a “genuine man who tried leadership and was caught out by politics”.
Yunupingu was a true statesman and diplomat.
He was also patient.
In his chairman’s forward to the Northern Land Council’s 1989 annual report, his first words are: “The time for a treaty is long overdue.”
In 2018, he was with me at Barunga, at a joint meeting of the four Northern Territory land councils. It was the 30th anniversary of the Barunga Statement.
Still no treaty. But there was some progress.
I joined the chairs of the four land councils to sign a memorandum of understanding with the then Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Michael Gunner MLA, to advance treaty/treaties with Aboriginal peoples in the NT.
The joint meeting of the four land councils also hosted a special sitting of the Commonwealth Parliament’s Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition.
A year earlier, I had signed the Uluru Statement from the Heart on behalf of the Northern Land Council, calling for recognition and a Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution.
The current federal government has committed to implementation in full of the Uluru Statement. Voice. Treaty. Truth. This is part of Yunupingu’s monumental achievement.
Later this year I am optimistic Australians will vote Yes in the Referendum on the Voice.
I call on the Commonwealth and Northern Territory governments to honour the memory of Yunupingu by moving forward with a treaty after the Referendum on the Voice this year.
Yunupingu was passionate about education. So am I.
It is the future for our children. It is the future for our people. But it must be two-way. Aboriginal culture and balanda culture.
Yunupingu had two-way education. We must stay strong in our culture and ceremony but learn to live in the modern world.
The Northern Land Council’s Learning on Country program is based on two-way learning. I am proud to be part of its creation and development.
This part of Yunupingu’s achievement too.
This week, we paused to pay tribute and honour Yunupingu who always stood true and strong for his family, his people and the fight for land rights, justice, and treaty, for all Aboriginal people across Australia.
We get back to work and continue the fight, with honour and respect for his great achievements, for ourselves who belong to the world’s oldest continuing living culture, and for all Australians who dream of a better future for our children and grandchildren.
DR SAMUEL BUSH-BLANASI IS A PROUD YOLNGU MAN AND CURRENTLY SERVING HIS FOURTH TERM AS CHAIR OF THE NORTHERN LAND COUNCIL. DR Y SERVED EIGHT TERMS AS NLC CHAIR.