1. Jonathan Thurston
Rugby League legend Johnathan Thurston has gone from being the man of the moment in the 2015 Grand Final match to the man of the year earlier this month with James Cook University (JCU) bestowing the title ‘Doctor’ on the footy star.
The 32-year-old Thurston was presented with an Honorary Doctor of Letters at a graduation ceremony in Townsville in recognition of "outstanding service and exceptional contributions" to the north Queensland community.
Thurston’s on-field successes reached a high this year when he led the North Queensland Cowbys to NRL victory and helped Queensland to take its ninth State of Origin title in 10 years.
Thurston also took home his fourth Dally M player of the year award and won his third Golden Boot award as best player in the world in 2015.
2. Graham Taylor
As an Amangu Yamaji Elder born in Three Springs in the North Midlands area of Western Australia, NITV was overjoyed when Taylor picked up this year’s NAIDOC Male Elder of the Year award.
The former member of Australia’s Defence Force was commended for his bravery abroad and recognised for his continual work towards the recognition and inclusion of Aboriginal people who have fought in the armed forces.
Taylor went to Tardun Palantine Mission as a child before entering the defence force.
When he arrived in Malaysia for six months of service, he was assigned forward scout, at the frontline clearing pathways for the rest of the platoons. He was also a stretcher bearer.
In September 1971, the enemy attacked 16 men with mortar bombs and heavy rifle fire and 10 were seriously injured. Despite heavy fire he helped his injured mates. Some did not make it.
Taylor returned to Australia and years later initiated the annual ANZAC ceremony with the RSL during NAIDOC Week, which is growing in number and pride each year. Taylor has been a member of the local RSL since 1995 and has never missed an ANZAC Service. He lays the wreath on behalf of the Aboriginal Community at the dawn service each year. He is also a flag bearer at ANZAC parades representing Australia or New Zealand.
Taylor currently mentors Indigenous youth. He has also lent his time to Mullewa High School, 100 kilometres north east of Geraldton.
3. Justin Trudeau
We couldn't overlook Justin Trudeau for his contribution to Indigenous affairs in 2015. If someone had told us at the start of the year that we would be publishing regular stories about Canada’s Prime Minister and his political promises on Indigenous affairs, we would’ve laughed them out of the room. But as it turns out Trudeau has turned out to be a politician with international star quality and a social conscience to match.
The Leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, born in 1971, won the election in November this year and became the country’s twenty third PM.
Reigning as the first ever son of a former PM to hold the post, Trudeau has taken a strong stance on Indigenous affairs since he was elected and has acted on his promises to promote equality among all Canadians.
In December, Trudeau told the United Nations Conference on World Climate Change in Paris that his government would look to Indigenous peoples for advice on how to properly care for the environment.
The Canadian leader’s inspiring speech touted the environmental value of Indigenous culture, promoting Indigenous knowledge and skills as one of the keys to his country’s climate action plan.
Upon returning to his country after the conference, Trudeau released a five-point plan to reset the country’s relationship with its Indigenous people, including a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and a new First Nation education deal.
4. Casey Conway
NITV was fully behind Conway, a former National Rugby League player, model and youth worker who talked this year about the process of coming out gay.
In October, NITV published a story about how hard it was for Conway to move from Central Queensland to Sydney to play in the NRL straight out of high school. He explained the difficulty in leading a ‘double life’ - exploring his sexual identity in Sydney’s gay scene while keeping his relationships private from his teammates - before he told club officials he was gay.
These days however, Conway is the smiling face and body of the Sluggers swimwear brand's summer campaign.
He continues to break new ground as an Aboriginal male model on the international stage.
Conway told NITV he also intends to focus his efforts towards youth work, having already spent more than six years helping young people to re-engage with school, employment and the community.
5. Tauto Sansbury
Tauto Sansbury, a Narungga elder, has worked to close the gap in inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians for more than 30 years.
But this year, the 66-year-old from the Yorke Peninsula of South Australia, appeared on NITV’s current affairs show Awaken to discuss how to advance the rights of Indigenous peoples in the face of threats to land and culture from large mining entities and governments.
He told NITV that Aboriginal unity was the best way to achieve a stronger Indigenous voice and attain power in the face of the potential closures of 150 remote WA communities.
Tauto also picked up the 2015 NAIDOC Lifetime Achievement Award in July in recognition of all that he has done in the fight to improve the conditions of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system.
He has served as the state chairperson of the South Australian Aboriginal Justice Advocacy Committee and chairperson of the Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee.
These committees resulted from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody where Tauto worked closely with Elliott Johnstone, QC and the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement Justice Officer.
He was recognised in 2003 when he was awarded an Australian Centenary medal "In recognition of work as director of the Aboriginal Justice Advocacy Committee and the National Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee".