This Story Contains the Name of an Indigenous Person Who Has Passed Away.

Mourners will gather in Darwin, to mark the loss of influential former Northern Land Council (NLC) chair Dr Bush-Blanasi.

The Northern Territory state funeral will be held today at the territory netball stadium in Marrara in Darwin’s north, with hundreds of people expected to gather to commemorate the “fearless leader”.

Dr Bush-Blanasi died in early November aged 61, after serving nine terms on the NLC board, including four as chair representing 51,000 people in the territory’s largest and most powerful land council.

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.

“A fearless leader gone too soon … his leadership was bold and uncompromising,” NLC said in a statement on after his death.

“Never deferential; he spoke truth to power … his political nous was second to none; equally as influential when talking with countrymen or politicians.”

Dr Bush-Blanasi was crowned 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.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney and federal NT MPs Malarndirri McCarthy and Marion Scrymgour expressed their sadness at his death.

“As three female representatives in the field of indigenous affairs – his respect and courage was a constant source of strength for all of us,” they said in a joint statement at the time.

“His wisdom, leadership and his sense of humour will be sorely missed.”

The Yolngu and Mayili man is survived by his children and grandchildren.

AAP Image/ Glenn Campbell