The human rights advocate, campaigner for social justice and indigenous elder Tom Calma was named ACT Australian of the Year at a ceremony at the Hyatt Hotel on Wednesday evening.
Dr Calma said he was surprised to receive the award and hoped it would encourage other people to take on leadership roles.
He wrote a landmark report in 2005 calling for the 17-year life expectancy gap then between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians to be closed, which sparked the "Close the Gap" campaign.
Dr Calma said the campaign was a work in progress and involved looking at how employ-ment, education and housing affected people's health.
"Governments have got to get away from thinking about just delivering services, to thinking about how do you deliver services, and at the same time transfer knowledge and skills to the community, so they can take control of their lives," he said.
Julie McKay, the 29-year-old executive director of UN Women Australia, received the ACT Young Australian of the Year award.
Ms McKay said her organ-isation's fund-raising efforts were focused on improving the lives of women in Australia, the Pacific, and east and south-east Asia.
Domestic violence was one of the biggest challenges they faced, she said.
"The systemic discrimination and under valuing of women's roles is something we need to work to challenge.
Dr Jim Peacock, Australia's chief scientist from 2006 to 2008, was awarded ACT Senior Australian of the Year for his work in agricul-tural science and promoting science education.
Francis Owusu won ACT Local Hero 2013 for using dance to inspire and motivate young people through his not-for-profit organisation Kulture Break.
Dr Calma first moved to Canberra from Darwin in 1992 and was appointed to diplomatic postings in India and Vietnam in the 1990s.
He is deputy chancellor at the University of Canberra and adjunct scholar at the ANU's National Centre for Indigenous Studies.