Please note this story contains reference to someone who has died.

A much-loved and respected leader, John Ah Kit has passed away aged 69.

Known to many as Jack, Ah Kit was a Jawoyn man who was a tireless advocate for Aboriginal people across the Northern Territory.

Passing Sunday at the Royal Darwin Hospital, Ah Kit’s family released a statement Sunday evening.

“He was a brother, cousin, husband, father, uncle and grandfather to us, of course, but also had those connections for many other people and friends around the Territory and the Australian nation, as a leader and an advocate for Aboriginal people, their countries and their rights,” said the family in a statement.

“His achievements were many, and we will hear stories of these in the coming days and weeks.”

Ah Kit took bounds and leaps where many dawdled, achieving significant milestones such as becoming the Northern Territory Parliament’s first Aboriginal minister in 2001.

He held five portfolios during his time in politics and held his position in NT Parliament until his retirement in 2005.

Before his foray into Parliament, Ah Kit was Director of the Northern Land Council (NLC) from 1984 to 1990 after coming on board as a council member for Katherine in 1983.

He also served as Executive Director of the Jawoyn Association from 1991 until 1995 when he resigned to enter into politics.

On Monday the NLC said the Council was mourning Ah Kit’s passing.

“Jack was a much-loved member of the NLC family and his loss will be deeply felt by NLC Full Council members, Traditional Owners, Native Title holders, community members and staff,” said the NLC in a statement.

“Jack’s memory will live on in us all. His words, his actions, his love for Country and for his Country men and women. By all of these things we will remember him.”

NLC Chair Samuel Bush-Blanasi said Ah Kit was a great leader who was “never afraid of taking on powerful interests to help our mob”.

“Jack’s life provides a lesson to all of us blackfellas—it doesn’t matter that you were born in Alice Springs and grew up in the Parap Camp in a tin shed with 12 brothers and sisters. If you work hard, stay loyal to your people and keep going through all the knockbacks and the hard-fought wins you can lead your people and set the kind of example we all admire,” Bush-Blanasi said.

“Jack will be in our memory as a great man and a great leader of the NLC.”

Many others have shared their condolences with the family and memories of Ah Kit, including Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt.

In a statement, the Minister said Ah Kit’s contribution to Territorians’ lives was “hugely significant”.

“With the passing of John Ah Kit, the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory have lost one of their greatest champions,” Minister Wyatt said in a statement.

“Mr Ah Kit was tireless in his advocacy for the Jawoyn people’s traditional beliefs in the face of much political resistance.”

The Ah Kit family said his life should be “the focus of celebration and commemoration”.

“We will let people know what plans we have to celebrate his life as arrangements are made.”

By Hannah Cross