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Global Indigenous rights leader South Australia alumni

[by Megan Andrews]

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Global Indigenous rights advocate and trailblazer for cultural heritage preservation, Henrietta Marrie AM, is among four outstanding leaders who were recognised at the 2023 University of South Australia Alumni Awards on Saturday night.

UniSA’s distinguished Alumni Award winners are announced each year at a gala dinner.

UniSA Vice Chancellor Professor David Lloyd says the University’s Alumni Awards celebrate the innovators and pioneers of its 240,000-strong global alumni community.

“It’s fantastic to witness the achievements of our graduates, knowing that UniSA has played a part in their journey,” Prof Lloyd says.

“I could not be prouder of the outstanding alumni we are honouring this year. They have contributed immensely to society and represent exceptional leadership across diverse areas, all sharing a strong commitment to community.”  

Marrie, a Yidinji and Gunggandji Elder who grew up in northern Queensland, says her experiences in Adelaide while completing a Diploma in Teaching and a Graduate Diploma of Arts (Indigenous Studies) at UniSA, were instrumental in shaping her future.

“I found myself when I went to Adelaide,” she says.

“The upbringing I had was very similar to what I was learning, and the political and international relations components of my Indigenous studies were so relevant to my growing understanding of cultural heritage preservation, and my growing questions.”

This background laid the foundation for a commitment to cultural heritage that saw her the first Aboriginal Australian to be appointed to a United Nations (UN) agency, where she advocated for more than a billion First Nations people around the world, and made recommendations that were cemented into UN guidelines. Her other achievements include overseeing the distribution of $35 million to sustain Aboriginal biocultural diversity across northern Australia, while working in the not-for-profit sector.

Together with managing her consultancy business, Marrie is currently leading an Australian Research Council (ARC) project at The University of Queensland.    

“Through this project, we are developing a database to collect and safeguard the knowledge of northern Queensland Aboriginal Peoples on indigenous plants and their properties, including for food, agriculture or medicine applications.

“If Aboriginal Peoples are to move forward, their unique knowledge must be preserved at an economic level so they can be rewarded for their expertise, and it can benefit the nation. It’s been done in the arts, which has contributed immensely to the Australian economy.” 

Her other key work is based on a tool developed with her husband Adrian that identifies, measures and monitors institutional racism. This has been applied across all Queensland hospitals and health services and has been heralded for its ability to measure progress towards closing the gap on Aboriginal disadvantage in health systems. 

Marrie says the adaptable matrix can also be customised to other industries or areas of discrimination, and they are starting to engage on applications outside of health.

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