When Joan M Dhamarrandji talks to people in Galiwin'ku about why they should participate in democracy and vote she tells them that electing leaders has been a part of Aboriginal culture for thousands of years.
Leaders were elected by fellow tribal members to govern over the land, decide who would marry who and what sea boundaries were, she says.
Only men would vote, as was the case in Ancient Athens' democracy.
Ms Dhamarrandji, an Aboriginal woman from Galiwin'ku on tropical Elcho Island off the Arnhem Land coast, is working for the Australian Electoral Commission to educate people about how the democratic process works and why it is important.
Young men and women in the typically apolitical 18-25 age group, respond positively and ask her questions outside the store on the remote island.
About half of Galiwin'ku's adults have not voted at the last few elections and of those that did more than half voted informally, meaning the votes did not count.
About 26 per cent of the 2000-odd residents are not even enrolled to vote.
The Northern Territory has the lowest enrolment rate in Australia of 84 per cent and lowest voter turnout.
The fact that Aboriginal people were disengaged and voted in far lower numbers than other Australians was a serious enough problem to be regarded as "undermining democracy", NT electoral commissioner Iain Loganathan said recently.
The AEC is running a pilot program in three communities employing local residents from the Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation as electoral awareness officers who can speak to locals in their own language about voting.
Already more than 100 of the 460 people that were not enrolled have been signed up, although that was pointless unless they were motivated to then turn up and vote, said AEC NT electoral officer Geoff Bloom.
"We couldn't do this if it was just us trying to fuddle our way through and find out who to talk to as non-indigenous people," he said.
"I know how that goes because we have done it in the past and it is not effective."
There was resistance from some people - often the young - who do not care and were "struggling in between the worlds, the western way of thinking and the local knowledge," said local Marrawili Gondarra.
Ms Dhamarrandji said her community had to strike a balance between traditional law and respecting western culture and government where funding comes from.
Having their voice heard was connected to the funding they received and using it properly to send their children to school for a better future.
"We are in a different category to Sydney and rural Australia but we are vitally important like those other towns and cities, we are on equal terms and we have a right to have a say," she told AAP.
The AEC's Darwin office was reduced from 16 staff to three last year under a Federal Government restructure.
Australian Associated Press
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