The Northern Territory’s first Indigenous cabinet minister, John “Jack” Ah Kit, has been remembered at a state funeral as an important figure that played a historical role in the advancing the rights interests of First Nations peoples.P
A football-sized crowd of more than 1000 people packed the grandstand at the TIO Stadium in Darwin on Thursday on what would have been his 70th birthday.
Mr Ah Kit was elected to parliament in 1995 and became the NT’s first Aboriginal cabinet minister in the Labor government in 2001 before retiring at the 2005 NT election.P
His friend Labor Senator Pat Dodson paid tribute to Mr Ah Kit for his time in the 1980s as CEO of the powerful Northern Land Council, “steering the history of land rights” and the interests of Aboriginal people in the Top End, at a time when Mr Dodson held the same role at the Central Land Council in central Australia.P
The pair spent a lot of time in Canberra where Senator Dodson said he would lobby “any federal politician he could buttonhole” and he was intransigent, refusing to be put off or told to make an appointment.
“The Northern Land Council and Central Land Council embedded the rights and interests of First Nations peoples, the way that property rights and land development was set to work under the land rights regime in Northern Territory,” Senator Dodson said.
“This became a template for land rights across Australia.”
Mr Ah Kit was also remembered as a “driving force with Galarrwuy Yunupingu on the Barunga Statement that called for a treaty,” said the Jawoyn Association chair Lisa Mumbin, representing the Jawoyn indigenous people of which Mr Ah Kit was a member.
He is survived by his wife Gail.
One of his five children, Ngaree Ah Kit, is an MLA in the current NT Labor Government.