Fearless Indigenous leader remembered at state funeral

To some, Dr Bush-Blanasi was a fierce Indigenous rights activist, to others, he was the most stubborn man in the room.

To most, he was both.

The former chair of the Northern Territory's most powerful land council was remembered at a state funeral service in Darwin on Friday.

Dr Bush-Blanasi died in early November aged 61, after serving nine terms on the Northern Land Council board, including four as chair representing 51,000 people in the territory's largest council jurisdiction.

Friends, family, colleagues and even foes remembered the Yolngu and Mayili man as a fearless and respected Indigenous leader.

"His dedication to land rights and Indigenous empowerment was not a solitary journey but one fueled by the collective love and encouragement of those closest to him," his brother Conway Wirrapanda Blanasi said on Friday.

"His legacy is not just in the milestones, advocacy and change but also in the years of connection that rippled through communities."

Dr Bush-Blanasi Funeral
Senator Malarndirri McCarthy says Dr Bush-Blanasi was a friend and respected colleague.

A passionate advocate for the voted-down voice to parliament referendum, he secured sea country rights in Arnhem Land for traditional owners in 2022.

The Aboriginal Sea Company was the first of its kind and enabled traditional owners to oversee commercial fishing, aquaculture and other fishing-related activities along the Arnhem Land coastline.

NT and federal politicians were among the hundreds of people who attended the funeral.

Federal NT senators Malarndirri McCarthy and Marion Scrymgour were emotional during their eulogies, with Senator McCarthy calling him a friend and respected colleague.

"He had an incredible ability to call things out to us as political leaders on all sides of politics and to talk straight," she said.

"He had to work with all sorts of industry, mining, fishing and pastoral groups and it takes a great deal of skill to be able to agree to disagree but still have the respect of those people."

Dr Bush-Blanasi funeral
Tiwi elders and land council members joined mourners at the funeral for Dr Bush-Blanasi

Dr Bush-Blanasi was named the NT's 2023 Australian of the Year and awarded an honorary doctorate for his work supporting native title claims, including overseeing the historic hand-back of the remaining half of Kakadu National Park to 14 clan estate groups.

In her speech, NT Chief Minister Natasha Fyles called Dr Bush-Blanasi a "truly inspirational leader and role model".

"May his spirit continue to guide us as we carry forward his vision of a world where every individual is empowered to reach their full potential," she said.

Lisa Mumbin, chairperson of the Jawoyn association representing and promoting the views of Jawoyn traditional landowners, worked closely with Dr Bush-Blanasi.

"He was a fighter, and he never gave in to anyone," she said.

"He would walk into (our) office past the reception with no appointment, as we all know, no appointment for him."

Ms Mumbin had known him since he was three years old, taking on a maternal role from a young age.

Dr Bush-Blanasi funeral
Natasha Fyles says Dr Bush-Blanasi envisioned a world where all could reach their full potential.

She spoke fondly of having to pull him up on his attitude.

"I had many fights with my son," she said.

"He was stubborn in many ways, he can be good, he can be bad and he can be terrible."

"But he loved so many people and respected so many people."

Dr Bush-Blanasi's body now begins the four-hour journey back to Beswick where it will be returned to his family.

"Many of my people are not here today," Ms Mumbin said

"They're waiting for my son to go home where he belongs."

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