Land rights and heritage champion grieves loss of “visionary and keeper of songlines”, Yunupingu: NIT

Jarred Cross – April 4, 2023
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Land rights and heritage champion grieves loss of “visionary and keeper of songlines”, Yunupingu

Yunupingu at Garma festival in 2019. Photo credit: Peter Eve via Yothu Yindi Foundation.

National Native Title Council chair and First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance co-chair Kado Muir has expressed grief for the “profound loss of great leader and visionary”, Yunupingu, who he said led the way for others to follow throughout his lifelong crusade for Aboriginal rights.

Mr Muir joined the chorus of tributes on Monday following the news of the much loved and respected activist’s passing, aged 74, in Arnhem Land.

“Today we mourn the profound loss of the great leader and visionary Yunupingu, a senior Yolngu lore man, Gumatj clan leader and the keeper of songlines,” Mr Muir said.

“We extend our deepest condolences and respect to the Yunupingu family, the Gumatj clan and to the Yolgnu people.

“Our tribute is wrapped in the greatest respect to a dedicated leader and trailblazer who showed the way, reminding us ‘the future is our responsibility.’”

Mr Muir said Yunupingu will always be remembered as “one of the most prominent and influential Indigenous leaders of the past century by advancing Aboriginal rights, particularly land rights, before more recently focusing on the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”.

Mr Muir recounted an early piece of Yunupingu’s vast legacy from the 1960s, which more than half a century later remains in the hearts and minds of many.

“We remember you for assisting your father Mungarrawuy and uncle Djalalingba in the drafting the Yirrkala Bark Petitions, asserting customary law and native title rights over land, including a 360sqkm area over which the Menzies government had granted a commercial bauxite lease using open cut mining, without consulting the Traditional Gumatj owners, that led to legal action in the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory,” he said.

“This case, although unsuccessful, was the first in Commonwealth history in which First Nations people challenged mining company leases by asserting native title rights.

“The National Native Title Council and First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance hold your legacy strong, and we will continue to build the progress and interests of First Nations people through rights-based advocacy as our highest priority.

“May you Rest in Power and your family find great strength and peace as you have now returned to the land where you were born – the sacred Yolngu country in northeast Arnhem Land.”