The prominent indigenous and island activist of the South Sea, Bonita Mabo, has passed away.
Just a few days ago, he received an Honorary Doctorate in Letters from James Cook University for his contribution to social justice and human rights.
"It is a great loss for all of us," said the indigenous senator from Western Australia, Patrick Dodson.
"I think Australia needs to honor people like Ms. Mabo who was, to a certain extent, in the shadows of her husband, but who was the backbone and steel that helped him and many others to continue the struggles."
Bonita Mabo has received one of the most important awards from James Cook University, an Honorary Doctor of Letters, in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the community. #BecauseOfHerWeCan https://t.co/KVVgOLGGaK pic.twitter.com/S0sdaVNzjV
– James Cook Uni (@jcu) November 22, 2018
"A person of great importance, a great and great Australian contribution to the cause of justice for all.
"It's a sad day, it's a great loss for all of us, but it's a person who comes in vain from the recent recognition that" because of it, we can do things ".
In a statement, The Australian South Sea Islander Alliance said it "would be missed a lot."
"Aunt Bonita's contribution to social justice and human rights for the First Nations peoples and the recognition of the islands of the Australian Sea was monumental and implacable," the statement said.
"A formidable 'Tanna Woman', Aunt Bonita will be greatly missed as Australia has lost one of the greatest matriarchs of all time."
The commissar of social justice of the aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, June Oscar, remembered her as "the mother of the native title".
"She was a woman of great strength, she was kind, stoic and loving," Oscar said in a statement.
"I will always remember her as the mother of the native title, her legacy lives in our ongoing struggle for the rights of land and sea."
Indigenous education was a passion for life.
Ms. Mabo was a woman from Malanbarra and a descendant of Vanuatuan workers brought to Queensland to work on sugar plantations.
He was born near Ingham in North Queensland and married Eddie in 1959.
In the early 1970s, he created the first school of the Aboriginal community in Australia and worked as a teacher's assistant.
"For black children … we could see what they were like … they used to go to school and blame them for different things," he said in a 2013 interview.
"I used to go to school and I used to have discussions with teachers and many times they cried and I did not care because I had said what I wanted to say."
The Black Community School began in Townsville with 10 students and two teachers who volunteered for half the payment.
The school taught children to read and write, and the history and culture of the Torres Strait Islanders.
At its peak in the late 1970s, 45 students enrolled in the school.
It closed in 1985 due to lack of funding.
The decision of mabo
Eddie Mabo spent a decade fighting for the official recognition of his town's ownership of Mer Island in the Torres Strait.
The couple had 10 children and indigenous education became one of Mabo's lifelong passions.
Her husband did not live to see the result, but in 1992, Bonita Mabo was heading from northern Queensland to Canberra when the historic decision was made.
In 2017, he remembered that moment.
"We were just outside of Sydney, we stopped and stopped at one side of the road and Malita called us and said:" Dad won the decision, he won the case, "he said.
"And we just jump and hug each other.
"We were proud as punch."
The Mabo case was legally significant in Australia because it determined that the lands of this continent were not "terra nullius" or "lands that do not belong to anyone" when the European settlement occurred.
He found that the people of Meriam, traditional owners of the Murray Islands, including the islands of Mer, Dauer and Waier, had a "right against the whole world to the possession" of the lands.
The case paved the way for the Native Title Act of 1993.
In an interview with ABC in 2013, Ms. Mabo said she had to be there for her husband "all the time."
"Thick or thin, we made it," she said.
"[I was] disappointed that he was not there … for the trial to arrive early enough.
"But on his deathbed he knew it and kept saying:" When I win the case, when I win the case ".
Recognizing the islanders of the South Sea
In recent years, Ms. Mabo had been fighting for the islanders of the southern seas to be recognized in Australia as her own ethnic group.
It was recognized in the Order of Australia in 2013 for its "distinguished service to the indigenous community and human rights."
"I feel very honored to be a part of that," Ms. Mabo said at the time.
Ms. Mabo was often asked about her work with Eddie, but when speaking about the Australian Order, she said she made sure to tell people, "Well, I have another side too."
"I am a descendant of the South Sea Islands, my great-grandfather came from the Tanna Islands and they robbed me here … to come clean the country," he said.
"Well, when I start saying that, they sit and listen."
Jackie Huggins, co-chairman of Australia's First National Peoples Congress, said Ms. Mabo was "a mother to all of us in the political struggle."
"She left a legacy of great compassion, of being the woman behind Eddie Mabo, her husband, in their struggle for justice and human rights," he said.
"She was also an activist in her own right.
"She was a great legend throughout this nation.
"Like her husband, her legacy will always live."
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