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Tributes flow after death of Indigenous pioneer of the Pilbara

David Prestipino -

Warning: this article contains a link to an earlier report which features the name and image of a person who has since died.

A highly-respected and influential Pilbara Elder who dedicated his life to advancing the rights and interests of the Banjima people has passed away.

The Banjima Native Title Aboriginal Corporation said its office would remain closed until Thursday in honour of Mr M. Parker, a prominent Elder and former chairman who BNTAC confirmed on Monday had passed away.

Mr Parker was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2016 after exposure to asbestos at Wittenoom, and worked tirelessly for decades to bring about justice for communities affected by the asbestos mine, and for the site of the mine to be remediated properly.

Mr Parker established critical relationships with government, industry and community leaders, which helped advance Indigenous interests on Banjima Country in Western Australia's vast and resource-rich Pilbara region.

"We have experienced the loss of highly respected Banjima Elder, Mr M. Parker," BNTAC said.

"We ... extend our deepest condolences to the family and those touched by Mr Parker's remarkable contribution to Banjima, his unwavering passion and dedication to his people, community, culture, and country."

Gumala Aboriginal Corporation executive officer Justin Dhu said on Tuesday afternoon the prominent elder left a lasting legacy for Indigenous people in the Pilbara.

"On behalf of the GAC team and with a heavy heart, I would like to express our heartfelt condolences for the passing of a prominent Banjima Elder," he said.

"The work this Elder has done for Country, culture and people will undoubtedly be felt for years to come.

"He, along with many of our Elders who have gone before him, depart as an enormous loss to Gumala, Banjima people and the region.

"Our thoughts and love go to the friends and family."

Mr M. Parker was renowned for raising cultural heritage and royalty payment issues with government and resources heavyweights as iron ore mining expanded across the Pilbara in the 2000s.

His relationships helped Traditional Owners strike key agreements with the likes of Rio Tinto and BHP, which mine predominantly on Banjima Country.

Mr Parker and other Traditional Owners were crucial to helping the Banjima people receive native title recognition over their traditional lands in 2014 after a long fight, as approvals for resources projects began across the region.

Mining and Pastoral Region MLC Peter Foster paid tribute to Mr Parker in a statement.

"I have the privielege to walk country and learn language and culture with this very special man," he said.

"Mr Parker was a strong leader and a fearless advocate. Mr Parker spoke often about his Elders and told me that is where he got his determination from; His dedication to his people, community, culture and country."

Mr Foster said he was grateful to have spent time with Mr Parker over the years.

"My deepest condolences to his family, and all who got to meet and walk country with him," he said.

Several prominent industry leaders posted online tributes to Mr Parker, including Christina Colegate, the assistant director of Aboriginal Engagement at WA's Department of Premier and Cabinet.

"A huge loss - sincere condolences to Mr Parker's family and Banjima people," she said.

"He provided extraordinary leadership and guidance to everyone he worked with. His legacy will live on."

Mr Parker was well respected in the mining industry, which often sought his advice on cultural matters and to attend major events and project openings.

Mr Parker was also an avid and active Indigenous cultural ambassador, appearing at several major WA tourism events to share his knowledge.


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