The Territory’s first Aboriginal minister and leading Indigenous political identity, Jack Ah Kit was awarded an Honorary Doctorate during Charles Darwin University’s end-of-year graduation ceremony held recently (Friday October 9).
A Doctor of Letters, Honoris Causa, was conferred in recognition of Dr Ah Kit’s contribution to politics in the Northern Territory, his ongoing contribution to Indigenous people and his services to reconciliation and cross-cultural understanding.Born in Alice Springs into a family of 13, John Ah Kit went on to become the Northern Territory’s first Aboriginal Cabinet Minister in the Martin Labor Government in 2001, a position he held until his retirement in 2005.
Moving with his parents to Darwin in 1954, Dr Ah Kit went to attend Darwin and Parap primary schools, followed by a brief stint at Darwin High School. After leaving school, he worked on a number of Top End cattle stations including Litchfield, Elizabeth Downs, Douglas and Elsey. He also had a career as a truck driver on Darwin Wharf and, after Cyclone Tracy, went to Alice Springs working with the Department of Transport and Works on road projects.
In 1977, Dr Ah Kit began studying at the Aboriginal Task Force at the then South Australian Institute of Technology, where he obtained a Certificate in Community Development and an Associate Diploma in Social Work.
In 1984, he rose to prominence when he was elected Director of the Northern Land Council. In 1991, he was appointed Director of the Katherine-based Jawoyn Association, a post he held until his resignation in 1995 to contest the seat of Arnhem, a seat he held until his retirement.
For most of his time as a member of the Martin Labor Government, Dr Ah Kit was the Territory’s first Aboriginal government minister, serving as Minister for Community Development, Housing, Local Government, Sport and Recreation, Regional Development and Minister assisting the Chief Minister on Indigenous Affairs.
Since his retirement in 2005, Mr Ah Kit has served as the Chairman of the Nitmiluk National Park Board of Management and adviser to the Jawoyn Association. He also served on the Reference Group to the Anderson-Wild inquiry into child abuse on Aboriginal communities.
In 2007, he received a life-time achievement award during the National NAIDOC Awards in Darwin.
In addition to the presentation of the Honorary Doctorate, to night’s ceremony at the Darwin Entertainment Centre saw more than 300 students receive formal recognition of the successful completion of their studies in the higher education and Vocational Education and Training sectors.