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'Fearless' NT land council chair Samuel Bush-Blanasi dies, aged 61

Neve Brissenden -

Land rights activist and long-serving chair of the Northern Land Council Dr Bush-Blanasi has died aged 61.

Dr Bush-Blanasi served on the NLC board for nine terms, including four as Chair representing 51,000 people in the territory's largest and most powerful land council.

A passionate advocate for the recently voted down Voice to Parliament referendum, he also secured sea country rights in Arnhem Land for traditional owners in 2022.

The Aboriginal Sea Company was the first of its kind and enabled traditional owners to oversee commercial fishing, aquaculture and other fishing-related activities along the Arnhem Land coastline.

"A fearless leader gone too soon ... his leadership was bold and uncompromising," NLC said in a statement on Monday.

"Never deferential; he spoke truth to power ... his political nous was second to none; equally as influential when talking with countrymen or politicians."

Dr Bush-Blanasi was crowned the NT's 2023 Australian of the Year and awarded an honorary doctorate for his work supporting native title claims, including overseeing the historic hand-back of the remaining half of Kakadu National Park to 14 clan estate groups.

Dr Bush-Blanasi was also a strong advocate for Indigenous women, consistently advocating for family-centric policies.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney and NT members of Federal Parliament Malarndirri McCarthy and Marion Scrymgour expressed their sadness at his death.

Land rights activist Samuel Bush-Blanasi is being remembered as a fearless Indigenous leader. (Image: Lukas Coch/AAP)

"As three female representatives in the field of Indigenous Affairs - his respect and courage was a constant source of strength for all of us," they said in a joint statement on Monday.

"His wisdom, leadership and his sense of humour will be sorely missed."

The trio said Dr Bush-Blanasi was a "shining example" of what can be achieved by Indigenous Australians deciding their own futures.

The Yolngu and Mayili man is survived by his children and grandchildren.

NT Chief Minister Natasha Fyles said he was an inspirational leader for Indigenous Australians everywhere.

"More than his achievements, Dr Bush-Blanasi was a friend and confidant to many," she said.

"Always offering advice and wisdom, we will miss his guidance."

NT Aboriginal Affairs Minister Chansey Paech took to social media to say he was "devastated" by the news.

"This is without a doubt one of the hardest things to hear," he said.

Funeral preparations are being finalised.

Neve Brissenden - AAP

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