State funeral for Uluru land rights deal elder at Pukatja

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First Nations Peoples Cultural Protocols

Anthony Stewart ABC Online 26 June 2013

An Indigenous elder who helped secure the first land rights deal in central Australia has been honoured with a state funeral in remote central Australia today.

The funeral attracted hundreds of people in cold and rainy weather to the outback community of Pukatja, formerly known as Ernabella, about 30 kilometres south of the Northern Territory border with South Australia.

In 1981, Kunmanara Thompson signed the land rights deal over APY lands in central Australia, about 1,400 kilometres north of Adelaide.

Lawyer Phillip Toyne said the recent death of his friend at the age of 66 was a loss to the land rights movement.

Mr Thompson was one of the traditional owners to whom the Hawke Government returned Uluru and Kata-tjuta in 1985.

"Ours was a friendship that was born out of really, really tough political issues, a really long-running battle to get the land rights here," he said.

Mr Toyne worked with Mr Thompson, also known as 'Puntj', to win a land rights deal for the Anangu people.

He says Mr Thompson, a former chairman of the Pitjantjatjara Council, brought people together and his death is a huge loss to the community.

"In some respects, it is immeasurable," he said.

"He was able to bring together all families and parties and interests in the land here.

"He was able to project really strong views when we met with government in South Australia.

"He was one of those genuine, important leaders in the land rights era."

South Australia's Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Hunter told the gathering Mr Thompson was an inspirational leader who changed the course of the state's history.

Family and friends used the occasion to describe a kind and generous man, who they all referred to as grandfather.