Friends and colleagues remember Indigenous elder and activist Sam Watson as down to earth, courageous and deeply committed to his people, the Catholic Leader reports.
“I can’t remember a time when Sam Watson wasn’t in the public eye – all my life,” Catholic social justice advocate Peter Arndt said.
“And it is just such an enormous and tragic loss.”
The 67-year-old died in Brisbane, his hometown, “surrounded by loved ones, who held his hand as he made his final journey back to the Old People”.
“Just as he loved his community, Sam was also devoted to his family,” a statement from his family said.
“He was a much cherished husband, father, brother, uncle and grandfather.”
At 16, Sam Watson took his first political action by handing out how-to-vote cards for the “yes” campaign in the 1967 referendum.
The successful referendum resulted in changes that saw Aboriginal people included in the Census for the first time.
In 1972 he became a founding member of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra.
“Sam fought against the policies of the Bjelke-Petersen Government that saw our communities subject to the oppressive controls of the former Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advancement,” his family said.
Through the 1970s, Mr Watson worked with Queensland elders to establish community organisations and peak bodies in health, housing, education, employment and legal aid.
Mr Watson played a vital role in implementing the findings of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
“As well as the advocacy work, he spent a lot of time providing practical support to families of Aboriginal people who died in custody,” Mr Arndt, the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission of Brisbane executive officer, said.
Sam Watson was a proud Wangerriburra and Birri Gubba man, who had blood ties to the Jagara, Kalkadoon and Noonuccal peoples.
Indigenous elder Sam Watson fought for his people all his life (Catholic Leader)
Sam Watson in 2016. Photo: Mark Bowling