Aboriginal rights activist Lowitja O’Donoghue dies aged 91

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Revered Aboriginal rights activist Lowitja O’Donoghue has died aged 91, surrounded by family.

The Yankunytatjara woman and former Australian of the Year championed the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

In a statement, her family said she died peacefully on Kaurna Country in Adelaide.

“Our Aunty and Nana was the Matriarch of our family, whom we have loved and looked up to our entire lives,” they said.

“We adored and admired her when we were young and have grown up full of never-ending pride as she became one of the most respected and influential Aboriginal leaders this country has ever known.”

The family said her legacy would continue through the Lowitja O’Donoghue Foundation, which was created on her 90th birthday.

“Aunty Lowitja dedicated her entire lifetime of work to the rights, health, and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” they said.

“We thank and honour her for all that she has done — for all the pathways she created, for all the doors she opened, for all the issues she tackled head-on, for all the tables she sat at and for all the arguments she fought and won.”

Dr O’Donoghue’s mother was Indigenous and her father was a pastoralist at De Rose Hill in South Australia.

At the age of two, she and her two sisters were taken from their mother.

She grew up at the Colebrook Children’s Home in Quorn and did not reunite with her mother until three decades later.

In 1992, Dr O’Donoghue became the first Australian Aboriginal person to address the United Nations General Assembly, calling for “the Australian constitution (to) be changed to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the continent’s original inhabitants”.

She was involved in negotiations with then prime minister Paul Keating in 1993 to create Australia’s Native Title legislation in following the Mabo High Court decision.

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