To commence Reconciliation Week, we are sharing an article written by Michael J. Evans, where he clarifies the difference between Welcome to Country or Acknowledgement of Country.
Michael is a proud Indigenous man, with lifelong disabilities, identifies as a Torres Strait Islander, uses a wheelchair for mobility, and is a Service Manager at one of Yooralla’s residential accommodation services.
Incorporating welcoming and acknowledgement protocols into meetings and events recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and custodians of their land. It promotes an awareness of the past and ongoing connection to place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
In today’s world of meetings in office buildings and school assemblies, Welcomes to and Acknowledgements of Country may seem out of place. However, all areas of Australia have or had traditional owners, including where large cities are now situated. Even though Indigenous people may not live in a traditional way on this land, they are still connected to it. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians remain connected to the Country of their ancestors and most consider themselves the custodians or caretakers of their land.
Welcome to Country
A Welcome to Country is a ceremony performed by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people to welcome visitors to their traditional land. It can take many forms, depending on the particular culture of the traditional owners. It can include singing, dancing, smoking ceremonies or a speech in traditional language or English.
It should be noted that traditionally the ‘Welcome’ was to give permission to enter or cross into another country.
Acknowledgement of Country
An Acknowledgement of Country is a way of showing awareness of and respect for the traditional Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander owners of the land on which a meeting or event is being held, and of recognising the continuing connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to their Country.
An Acknowledgement of Country can be informal or formal and involves visitors acknowledging the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander owners of the land as well as the long and continuing relationship between Indigenous peoples and their Country.
At a meeting, speech or formal occasion the speaker can begin their proceedings by offering an Acknowledgement of Country. Unlike a Welcome to Country, it can be performed by a non-Indigenous person.
I would like to respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Owners ((or “traditional custodians” or ‘traditional caretakers’)) of the Land, the (###) People on whose land we meet today. I would also like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present and extend that respect to all other people present.
It may also be appropriate to include the following words in your acknowledgement of country
Today we gather to learn, share our knowledge and celebrate the importance of community. We are ‘Acknowledging’ country rather than doing a ‘Welcome’ as this is not our country and we do not have authority to do so.
Michael J. Evans
taum akadar (pride in self)
About the Author
Michael is recognised as an Elder in many Aboriginal communities across western NSW and has over 20 years of experience as a formal mentor to Aboriginal leaders working in identified management positions in the NSW public service. Michael has over 30 years of experience as a wheelchair user and has provided formal advocacy and informal mentoring for persons with disabilities for over 50 years.
Michael has over 40 years of experience in senior and middle management roles including over 17 years employment with the NSW public service where he held senior positions such as Director Disability & Home Care Services in western NSW and over 15 years employment with Telstra where he held management positions such as Manager Corporate Services in regional Victoria.