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May 2008
A much loved Northern Territory Indigenous leader from the Arnhem Land has died. For cultural reasons, Dr Marika"s first name can no longer be used.
Dr Marika achievements in improving Indigenous opportunities were acknowledged in 2006 when she won both the Territorian of the Year award and the Territory"s Australian of the Year award.
Dr Marika was a linguist, translator, leader, teacher and champion of Yolngu language and culture.
Community elder and relative Djuwalpi Marika was amongst the first to pay tribute to the Dr Marika.
"I have known Dr Marika through early childhood while living in Yirrkala Dhanbul. Our fathers were brothers and we were very closely associated. Gentle, patient and wise is how I would describe her. Slow to speak and quick to action when it was needed. She walked the path of reconciliation and served the community with a big heart.
"I always sit with my grandson, under the trees, and he has seen her spirit as though she is there. We will miss her very much," Djuwalpi Marika said.
She was loved and highly regarded in her community of Yirrkala Dhanbul, in the Northern Territory, across Australia and overseas.
Australian Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin broke down in tears during her address.
"Dr Marika will be remembered by many people across many cultures. Her unique free ranging intellect encompassed Yolngu culture and mainstream Australia. She said the confluence of the two cultures was quite simply where the salt water coming in from the sea meets a stream of fresh water coming down from the land. She believed that her knowledge of her beloved culture was a gift to all Australians and it was," Ms Macklin said.
Community elder Barayuwa Munugurr from Laynha Home Lands praised her contribution to bilingual education, especially in her own backyard of Yirrkala Dhanbul.
"She was the guiding light in the education of our people through the remote learning partnership. When the bushfire of change was raging across our land, she was the voice of reason."
Former Principal of Yirrkala school, Leon White went further, and criticised the failure of successive Federal and Territory Governments to commit resources and energy to bilingual education.
"To me, enough is enough. Let"s move on as Dr Marika would have wanted. We still desperately need a commitment to support programs that provide challenging and stimulating intellectual development in both first language and English for our students. This is what this educator who we are acknowledging today was committed to achieving," Mr White said.
A moving poem was read by Maminydjama Maymura aged 11, who wrote it especially for Dr Marika.
"When the seasons come and the seasons go, it is a shame you will not see us grow. And when we are alone, we feel that you are near, looking over us and guiding us in every way."
Special mention was made of the fact that Dr Marika"s numerous achievements were realised despite a number of personal obstacles and tragedies, including the loss of a leg to cancer. Daughter of land rights pioneer Roy Marika, she also played an enormous role in founding the Dhimurru land management group. She was a Director of Reconciliation Australia, and recently attended the 2020 Summit in Canberra.
Northern Territory MLA Syd Stirling says Dr Marika passing is a huge loss to the local Arnhem Land community, and Australia.
"She was a gifted and passionate educator, a wonderful mother of course to her three children, gentle but very strong mentor to both Yolgnu and non-Indigenous alike. "She really was a bridge between the two cultures out here, highly skilled interpreter and a highly valued leader of course within the Marika family and the Yirrkala community."
Steve Roeger, the head of an Aboriginal land management corporation in east Arnhem Land, says "Dr Marika was one of our founders and played an enormous role both in helping establish Dhimurru and also as a committee member and as a strong supporter of our activities."
The head of Reconciliation Australia, Barbara Livesey paid tribute to Dr Marika, saying she made a huge contribution to Aboriginal affairs across the country.
"While we know that she did much work in her community, at the national level she was just a tireless worker for reconciliation and for building understanding between non-Indigenous people, Yolngu people and other Indigenous people."
The National Australia Day Council said Dr Marika was a significant leader, not just for her community, but for the nation. This was reflected in her award as the Northern Territory"s Australian of the Year 2006.
"Her footprint was large, as is her legacy. Dr Marika had an impressive ability to juggle her traditional life with mainstream Australian life. English was her 14th language and she had an enormous power for cross cultural communication.
Her leadership in education and academia and hard work and commitment for reconciliation will always be remembered. Her spirit will always be with us".
The Charles Darwin University community said Dr Marika was widely respected in the Yolngu community of north-east Arnhem Land, across the Northern Territory and in the wider Australian community. Her passion to empower local people generated great respect. In 1984, she spearheaded the Yirrkala School Action Group which resulted in the local school council taking control of local education programs in her community.
She was a role model for educational advancement and gave tirelessly to improve education and training opportunities for Aboriginal people and achieve the concept of ‘both ways’ learning.
She had been widely recognised for her contribution to educating Aboriginal people in the NT and services to reconciliation and inter-cultural understanding and was appointed to the boards of both Reconciliation Australia and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.
Dr Marika made a positive difference to Australia. In particular, she successfully worked toward educational outcomes which will empower Aboriginal people to express themselves as Aborigines in an environment, which understands and respects the bases of Aboriginal culture.
In that process, she has enhanced the educational opportunities for non-Aboriginal people to learn about Aboriginal culture and traditions. In so doing, she has enriched the cultural inheritance of all Australians.
Sitting around a camp fire at the Garma Festival with Dr Marika was a wonderful experience. Her legacy will be evident for generations to come and our fond memories of her will remain an inspiration as we work to enhance mutual understanding, said Vice Chancellor Professor Helen Garnett.
May 2008
Scholar, cultural protector Dr R.Marika dies at 49, by Nicolas Rothwell. (The Australian)
Scholar and grandmother, translator and cultural defender, Dr R. Marika, who died, aged 49, over the weekend near her home in northeast Arnhem Land, was one of Australia"s most prominent and admired traditional Aboriginal leaders.
Dr Marika"s long list of achievements, appointments and accolades highlighted her brilliance; but they give little clue to the determination, bravery and sweetness of character that made her so loved by her wide circle of friends.
Born into the Rirratjingu clan-group of the Yolngu people, the eldest daughter of the land rights campaigner Roy Marika, she devoted her life to education and to the cause of communication between the English-speaking mainstream and her own society.
She felt deeply the obligation to use her gifts for her people: she devoted many years to developing a successful and modern school curriculum for Yolngu pupils.
She was a director of Reconciliation Australia and of the Yothu Yindi Foundation, a member of the Council of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, and a participant in the 2020 Summit.
But it was her home community of Yirrkala that lay at the centre of her attention, and the work she most treasured was done for the land management group she helped found, Dhimurru, where her late husband, Mununggurritj, was for many years the senior cultural adviser.
She loved no task more than going through the details of the clan systems of northeast Arnhem Land, and retelling the stories of her tradition, while comparing their insights with the ideas current in the Western world.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said Dr Marika"s death was a loss to all Australians committed to reconciliation. "Dr Marika was the embodiment of reconciliation," she said.
by Yothu Yindi Foundation & Reconciliation Australia

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