Over the years, Australia’s recognition of its Traditional Owners has significantly advanced. From Kevin Rudd’s apology speech, to National Sorry Day and to NAIDOC Week, the nation has taken large steps to reconcile Australia’s bleak past.
One of these forms of recognition is seen through the Welcome to or Acknowledgement of Country. A Welcome to Country is delivered by Traditional Owners, or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have been given permission from Traditional Owners, to welcome visitors to their Country; while an Acknowledgement of Country is an opportunity for anyone to show respect for Traditional Owners and the continuing connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Both Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country are becoming more widely practiced across the country, from large events and gatherings to even small work meetings. Every club can look into practicing a Welcome to or Acknowledgement of Country, but how and when can you do it?
Before we go any further, let’s recap the history of the people and the land in order to give you a better understanding of the purpose of these practices.
The History and What it Represents
Since Australia’s colonisation by Europeans in 1788, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have experienced a long history of exclusion from Australian history books, the Australian flag, the Australian anthem and Australian democracy. The marginalisation of Indigenous people has created a disparity with non- Indigenous Australians that is still present today. However, the process of reconciliation has come a long way since those times and continues to further pay respect to the custodians of the land.
Welcoming and acknowledgement protocols show respect and promote the ongoing reconciliation with the past by attempting to create a more inclusive environment; and recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of land.
What’s the Difference Between a Welcome to Country and an Acknowledgement of Country?
Which to use?
While they may sound like the same thing, these two protocols are different in nature and it is important to understand which one your club can use.
A Welcome to Country is delivered by Traditional Owners, or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have been given permission from Traditional Owners, to welcome visitors to their Country. It will occur at the beginning of a formal event and could include singing, dancing, smoking ceremonies or a speech in traditional language or English.
An Acknowledgement of Country can be given by both non-Indigenous people and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and shows respect for Traditional Owners and the continuing connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to Country.
Acknowledgement of Country
The Acknowledgement of Country is used more commonly in daily situations such as club meetings, events and other gatherings. While there are no strict guidelines on how to word the Acknowledgement of Country, statements often use two methods:
- GENERAL: “I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today. I would also like to pay my respects to Elders past and present.”
- SPECIFIC: “I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today, the [people] of the [nation] and pay my respects to Elders past and present.”
Writing Your Own Acknowledgement of Country
As the Acknowledgement of Country becomes more widely recognised and used, it is worth researching its meaning and purpose. If you want to write a good statement, there are a few things you should consider.
- Do your research: There are over 500 Indigenous lands across Australia with varying dialects and practices. Therefore, it is important to research and recognise the land that your club is situated on.
- Show respect: It is important to be honest and genuine when writing or saying your acknowledgement.
- Be confident: Speak with purpose and intent.
- Avoid using past tense: The common mistake is that Indigenous land is recognised as being a thing of the past, however, that is not the case and we are still on Indigenous land.
- Use correct terminology: It is important to not use words that may harm or damage the culture. Words such as ‘Aborigines’ are considered a derogatory term.
- Double-check: If you are unsure about your Acknowledgement to Country, try and reach out to an elder, Indigenous member of the community, or simply do a Google search to find out more information.
As the club community grows in 2021 and the years following, we should make a concerted effort to pay respects to other communities, such as the Indigenous ones.
Making small improvements such as saying a Welcome to or Acknowledgement of Country is a key step in the process of reconciliation.