From school assembly to mining companies, people are commencing ceremonies with an ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ or ‘Welcome to Country’ but do you know the difference and the significance of this? Has this cultural protocol become sour with the taste of misunderstood obligation?
'Acknowledgement of Country' should be read before commencing by either an Aboriginal or Non-Aboriginal person. The acknowledgement is a sign of respect and pays homage to the cultural connections to the land. From a non-Aboriginal person’s perspective acknowledging that Aboriginal land was never relinquished to settler communities or governments sends a strong signal that you’re an ally. Some nervous folks often turn to the Aboriginal staff member to read the acknowledgement. Don’t do that – you’re perfectly capable of acknowledging whose land you’re on. Constantly asking the Aboriginal person to do it can be seen as tokenistic and honestly, we already know the significance. You do it.
'Welcome to Country' is very different and can be only read or spoken if you’re an Aboriginal person from that cultural group from that land. And, ideally, you come with cultural authority. Kaurna people welcome to Kaurna land. Traditionally, when travelling across cultural borders, leaders in the community would offer safe passage by ‘welcoming’ visitors. Clans would trade furs, foods and sometimes form relationships for marriage. To simplify: if your grandmothers family has a tradition hosting Christmas for 50 years in her home, how weird would it look if I started greeting her guests at the front door? It’s not my home to do so. Welcome to Country can also be visual in the form of dance, song or art.
Take Away: If you participate in public speaking in different cities, research the cultural region and acknowledge the traditional owners. This cultural respect will go a long way in assuring the first nations people that you see their cultural authority. This humble addition in your speech or on your website can make you an employer of choice for first nations people and that mark of respect is shared through first nations communities more effectively than any social media post. We see you.