First Nations senior elder awarded honorary doctorate at on-country ceremony

Dr Otto Bulmaniya Campion (second from right) received an honorary Doctor of Letters from Charles Darwin University (CDU) in front of his family and community in Ramingining.

Respected senior elder, ceremony man, ranger and scholar from Central Arnhem Land, Otto Bulmaniya Campion (Gamarrang), has been awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters by Charles Darwin University (CDU) in an inaugural on-country ceremony on October 5.

Dr Bulmaniya is a Traditional Owner of Malnyangarnak with strong family connections across Arnhem Land.

Presented with the honorary Doctor of Letter in front of his family and community members in Ramingining, Dr Bulmaniya shared his journey to inspire the future generations of Traditional Owners to speak up and care for their land.

“It’s been a really long journey and I’m proud to be recognised. It’s also acknowledging the people who have walked with me along this journey,” Dr Bulmaniya said.

“The recognition can help me move forward and work with more people in the community to find ways to get Traditional Owners connected with education, training and research.”

“I’m ready to keep in contact with CDU and put plans together to talk, share, translate and help people understand the message.”

CDU Vice-Chancellor Professor Scott Bowman commended Dr Bulmaniya on his achievement and leadership.

“This is the first time we have awarded a degree on country in a long time. Dr Bulmaniya is an incredible man by any standard. He is a strong, well-respected senior elder and ceremony man,” Professor Bowman said.

“I spoke to Dr Bulmaniya a lot about the concept of ‘both ways’, an approach that he is promoting with the rangers and the young people of Arnhem Land.

“This is a concept where traditional First Nations knowledge and approaches are taught and respected alongside Western knowledge systems. It gives people the benefit of Western knowledge and skills but keeps them connected to their traditional culture, knowledge, people and land.

“I think the concept of ‘both ways’ gives us a tool to live this principle. I think that the first stage in living this principle is to sit down and listen to people like Dr Bulmaniya,” he said.

Dr Bulmaniya is a highly respected community leader currently directing the Arafura Swamp Ranger Aboriginal Corporation (ASRAC) and collaborating with clans and ranger groups around Ramingining.

He worked hard for the ASRAC to become independent. He dedicates his traditional knowledge, leadership and research efforts to bush fire management and caring for country through leading the organisation.

He is also one of the founding members and a co-chair of the Aboriginal Research Practitioners Network, or ARPNet, hosted by CDU’s Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods.

Dr Bulmaniya said he witnessed and experienced the many challenges that younger First Nations people faced in education and employment.

“Our country services our people, and our country also needs people to care for it. We need to work on that, so the younger generation can move forward with confidence and show and strengthen our knowledge system,” he said.

“It’s about our time to tell our story for our country.”

Raised by a father who was a doctor, Dr Bulmaniya attributes his achievements to an upbringing with close connections to his homeland.

“I grew up surviving by hunting and gathering until the late 1970s when we established infrastructure and shelter. But in the 1920-30s, my grandfather and father already knew where to look for resources and how to care for our country,” he said.

“Big developments are pushing through and I understand the importance of the mining industry to our employment, but it’s really important to do it the right way and look after country.”

“So, it’s great to have the CDU Vice-Chancellor and the many good people around the University recognising the traditional knowledge for managing country,” Dr Bulmaniya said.

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