Traditional healer and teacher Yalmay Yunupingu received a standing ovation after her speech accepting the 2024 Senior Australian of the Year award.
The Northern Territory linguist guided Yirrkala Bilingual School in north-east Arnhem Land for four decades before retiring in March 2023.
After accepting her award, she said "education in Yirrkala School has always been my passion and my most treasured accomplishment in life, besides my family and community".
"Our people are sick and dying, young and old. Unfortunately, Western medicine is not working on its own. We need to marry both worlds of healing," she said.
"We need equal rights, including funding, services, and resources, so we can work side by side and support each other, and together, we can share new ideas to heal our nation."
Ms Yunupingu began by translating Dr Seuss books at the community library into her local Yolngu Matha language.
She qualified as a teacher and, with her husband, forged a bilingual teaching approach to make young people strong in their Yolngu language and culture, as well as English.
The school also recognised the importance of "learning on country, where we go out in the field [and] teach them the land, who the land belongs to", she said.
The elder and 67-year-old was awarded "Teacher of Excellence" by the Northern Territory Department of Education and was an honorary fellow at Charles Darwin University.
Since retirement, she teaches the next generation about traditional healing.
The peak body for older Australians, COTA Australia, said Ms Yunupiu was an inspiring and worthy recipient.
Chief executive Patricia Sparrow said Ms Yunupiu had made an invaluable contribution to her community.
"Yalmay Yunupiu is truly an inspirational leader. She's living proof that there is no limit to what we can achieve, no matter what our age," she said.
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