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Pearson asked to take 'yes' message stick to Canberra

Rudi Maxwell -

A council of Yolngu leaders has entrusted Indigenous activist Noel Pearson with a special message: take our support for a First Nations voice to Canberra.

The Dilak Council, made up of senior cultural leaders of 13 clan groups from northeast Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, handed Mr Pearson a message stick at the Garma Festival on Sunday.

"Take our voice straight to Canberra, so our voice will be heard," Balupalu Yunupingu said.

Balupalu said the message stick represented a canoe and the gurtha (sacred fire) and asked Mr Pearson to carry the sounds of the yidaki (didgeridoo) on his journey.

Garma is an annual four-day Aboriginal cultural festival, staged on Gumatj country by the Yothu Yindi Foundation.

Mr Pearson, a community leader from Cape York, accepted the message stick on behalf of Yes23, which is campaigning for a successful referendum to enshrine an Indigenous voice to parliament in the Constitution.

He said it was a sac red duty to finish the work of the late rights champion Yunupingu, the senior Gumatj leader who died earlier this year.

"He has advanced our cause so very far and it remains to us to complete the journey," Mr Pearson said.

"I'm going to take this message stick to every town hall, to every street, to every high hill and low valley across this nation.

"And I'm going to tell the 97 per cent of Australia to join us.

"We have the authority from these people to bring this referendum to a successful conclusion."

An important meeting point for the clans and families of the region, Garma showcases traditional miny'tji (art), manikay (song), bunggul (dance) and story-telling.

Tributes to the late Yunupingu flowed at the festival as the fire of his leadership was passed to his brother Djawa Yunupingu.

Yothu Yindi Foundation chief executive Denise Bowden told AAP that this year's Garma had embodied a respectful calm that reflected Yunupingu.

"People have come with a great deal of respect a nd really aware of the legacy of that he's left behind," she said.

"I only wish that he was here to have shared that with us but a lot of people have been really excited that the legacy piece of his will end up being a real substantial reality with the Garma Foundation."

The Garma Foundation will fulfil the Yothu Yindi Foundation's long-held dream of establishing a world-class education hub in northeast Arnhem Land.

Ms Bowden said that in Yolngu culture everything is interconnected.

"It's also the holistic view that we take when we organise this event, nothing works in a silo," she said.

"It's all linked and it makes perfect sense for us.

"Sometimes it might look like we're going backwards to others, but in actual fact, we're progressing in the way that the community works according to the ebb and flow."

Mr Pearson, too, talked about connection, saying he and Yunupingu had forged a partnership.

"I swore th at my future was to follow his lead," he said.

"This is our time - and to every Australian witnessing today, I urge you to get involved in the campaign, follow the will of the people in wanting recognition in the Constitution."

Rudi Maxwell - AAP

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