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Winnunga Nimmityjah farewells Pat Dodson from politics in moving ceremony

Jess Whaler -

Last week, proud Yawaru man, Senator Pat Dodson announced his retirement following a lengthy career of more than forty years spent working toward improving outcomes for First Nations people.

Following the announcement, Canberra's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Community Service, Winnunga Nimmityjah, held an intimate farewell for Senator Dodson.

Senator Dodson was a strong advocate for the Voice to Parliament, however during the campaign he endured his own personal challenge, a battle with cancer.

Speaking to press last week, he said his health was improving, offering a humorous comment of how his beard was growing back more to the right than the left.

In attendance at Winnunga's farewell was Senator Dodson's wife, Carol Wei who was presented with flowers and son, Adrian Dodson-Shaw who resides in Canberra, pursuing his own career ambitions.

The event was also attended by Ngunnawal-Ngambri Elder, Aunty Matilda House and Paul Girrawah House, who stood alongside Winnunga CEO, Julie Tongs, the interim Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People Advocate, Barbara Causon, Australian National University's Professor, Peter Yu, acting CEO of Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Leonard Hill, Lieutenant General John Sanderson and former ACT Chief Minister and Minister for Indigenous Affairs Jon Stanhope.

As speeches concluded, many attendees were heard saying "not a farewell, but more of a see you again soon".

On behalf of Winnunga staff and the Ngunnawal-Ngambri community, Paul House presented Senator Dodson with a glass coolamon he had personally crafted at Canberra Glassworks.

Senator Dodson's significant contributions toward improving circumstances for First Nations people in Australia are evident across many areas including advocacy, leadership, research, programs and policy.

Reflecting on a lifelong career, Senator Dodson, who has been referred to as the Father of Reconciliation, was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize in 2008 and was the 2009 Western Australian Senior Australian of the Year.

Lieutenant General John Sanderson, Senator Pat Dodson and Deputy CEO Winnunga Simon Costello. (Image: Jess Whaler/National Indigenous Times)

His approach toward bridging gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people earned him a reputation for having a sensitive approach to negotiations.

Prior to his role as a Senator, he held leadership roles with Central Land Council, Kimberley Land Council and has served as a member of the Yawuru Native Title Corporation and Chairman of Nyambu Buru Yawuru Ltd.

Notably, Senator Dodson was also the first Aboriginal Catholic Priest in Australia, only leaving this service due to conflicting beliefs with traditional Aboriginal spirituality.

He was also one of the Royal Commissioners into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, 1989, Chair of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation from 1991 to 1997 and Co-Chair of the Expert Panel for Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians from 2010 to 2016.

In the early eighties, Mr Dodson played a pivotal role in seeing the return of Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park to Traditional Owners.

Speaking to National Indigenous Times, Senator Dodson said "We all build on the leaders that went before us".

"All of the leaders who have helped us in the struggle and we try to take it a little bit further and I suppose I have been privileged to have a few opportunities to try and do that," he said.

"It's now the time to hand that back to the younger people, both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and young non-Aboriginal people. They've got to work together to bring the country together, because the referendum has created an Australian problem."

During his address to Winnunga staff and guests, Senator Dodson spoke of the referendum.

"If we had of gone down a path that was more strategic about consultation rather than grappling with complex issues back then, we may have been in a better position than we were when this referendum was held," he said.

Carol Wei, Adrian Dodson-Shaw, Patrick Dodson, Paul Girrawah House, Julie Tongs, Aunty Matilda House and Leonard Hill. (Image: Jess Whaler/National Indigenous Times)

"The jury is out on the referendum, the no voters have created an Australian problem.

"The legacy issues of colonialism has now become an Australian issue. We pride ourselves on having achieved a sort of harmonious type of society, but that's a very fragile society.

"Multiculturalism in this country is a very fragile thing and so beyond whatever people think of the First People.

"This is about the integrity of the nation, dealing with the legacy of colonisation."

As a final and lasting achievement of his career Senator Dodson, as Committee Chair for the Joint Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, this week published the report on the inquiry into the application of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Australia.

Senator Dodson said at the heart of the report is a call for all Australian governments and civil society to engage with the rights of First Peoples through UNDRIP.

"The Committee heard clear evidence about how the enhanced application of UNDRIP offers a blueprint for a renewed relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the Australian nation that strengthens our democracy and improves the wellbeing of First Peoples," he said.

On X (formerly twitter), the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, thanked Senator Dodson for his hard work and announced.

Senator Dodson will resign from federal politics on January 26, 2024.

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