Why are Welcomes to Country and Acknowledgements of Country Important?

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have experienced a long history of exclusion from Australian history books, the Australian flag, the Australian anthem and for many years, Australian democracy. This history of dispossession and colonisation lies at the heart of the disparity between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and wider Australian community today.

Including recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in events, meetings and national symbols is one part of ending the exclusion that has been so damaging. Incorporating welcoming and acknowledgement protocols into official meetings and events recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of land. It promotes an ongoing connection to place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and shows respect for Traditional Owners.

Credit: Reconciliation Australia.

Welcome to Country

Protocols for welcoming visitors to Country have been a part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures for thousands of years. Despite the absence of fences or visible borders, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups had clear boundaries separating their Country from that of other groups.

Seeking permission to enter or use resources from the land and sea have always been in place in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies.When permission was granted the hosting group would welcome the visitors, offering safe passage and protection of their spiritual being during the journey. While visitors were provided with a safe passage, they also had to respect the protocols and rules of the land owner group while on their Country.

Today, much has changed, and these protocols have been adapted to contemporary circumstances. However, the essential elements of welcoming visitors and offering safe passage remain in place. This Welcome also gives custodians the opportunity to formally welcome people to their land.

When does a Welcome to Country occur?

A Welcome to Country occurs at the beginning of a formal event and can take many forms including singing, dancing, smoking ceremonies or a speech in traditional language or English.

 

Who can perform a Welcome to 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.

 

What is said during a Welcome to Country?

There is no exact wording when a Welcome to Country is conducted. This is at the discretion of the person delivering the Welcome to Country. However, it is important that person or organisation wanting the Welcome to Country negotiates with the persons delivering the Welcome to Country on the nature of the event or occasion to assist in a more personalised delivery of the Welcome to Country.

 

What to consider when organising a Welcome to Country

When organising a Welcome to Country ceremony, it is important to consider the following factors:

  • the Elder or community member is provided with information regarding the audience they are welcoming
  • the equipment the Elder or community member is required to use if applicable, for example, a microphone and being on a stage
  • offering transport where necessary
  • payment for Welcome to Country may be required and should be negotiated prior to event along with method of payment and amount.

Acknowledgement of Country

When does an Acknowledgement of Country Occur?

Similar to a Welcome to Country, an Acknowledgement of Country is generally offered at the beginning of a meeting, speech or formal occasion.

Who can perform an Acknowledgement of Country?

It can be given by anyone (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and persons from with wider community).

Acknowledgment of Country is a way that people (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander not from the local area or non-indigenous) can show respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage and the ongoing relationship of traditional owners with the land.

What is said during an Acknowledgement of Country?

There are no set protocols or wording for an Acknowledgement of Country, though often a statement may take the following forms.

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.

What to consider when organising an Acknowledgement of Country

When organising an Acknowledgement to Country, it is important to consider the following factors:

  • that the correct Traditional Owner group has been identified and confirmed, South Australian Native Title Services may be able to assist you on this matter)
  • that the Acknowledgement is personalised to suit the occasion in which it is being provided for.

Smoking Ceremony

Smoking ceremonies are conducted by Aboriginal people with specialised cultural knowledge. The ceremony aims to cleanse the space in which the ceremony takes place. Given the significant nature of the ceremony, smoking ceremonies are usually only performed at major events.

 

Service Fee

In providing cultural services such as Welcome to Country, artistic performances and ceremonies Aboriginal people are using their intellectual property. As such, providers of these services should be appropriately remunerated.

Appropriate remuneration and / or assistance should be negotiated between the cultural service provider and the agency, considering:

  • travel to and from the event
  • public profile of the event