Acknowledging Country: An inspiring act of leadership, Allyship and Reconciliation

On Saturday 19 March, while taking to the podium to claim his victory as the 47th Premier of South Australia, Peter Malinauskas began his speech with these words:

“I stand here with my feet firmly on the lands of the Kaurna people. I pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.” 

These simple words were a powerful act of leadership that sent a message of hope to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people throughout Australia.

We are becoming increasingly familiar with this protocol at special events, our children’s school assemblies and even in our workplaces, so what made this particular Acknowledgement so special?

“To see a leader in his position deliver such an authentic Acknowledgement of Country was deeply inspiring and filled me with hope for the future,” explained our co-Director and Aboriginal Elder, Aunty Munya Andrews. 

“It spoke volumes about his genuine commitment to Reconciliation. If we can elect more leaders like this, regardless of the political party they represent, there is hope for Closing The Gap and creating a kinder, more inclusive Australia.”

You can view Peter Malinausakas giving his full acceptance speech here.

We are often asked at Evolve the purpose and meaning of an Acknowledgement of Country, the proper way to do it and the correct words to use. So much so that several years ago we introduced our popular Acknowledgement of Country Cards so you can carry the appropriate words in your pocket.

And today we have asked our co-director and Ally, Carla Rogers to answer five commonly asked questions.

An Ally’s guide to Acknowledging Country

1. What’s the difference between a Welcome to Country and an Acknowledgement of Country?

“The analogy I like to give is visiting someone’s home,” explains Carla.

“A Welcome to Country is provided by the homeowner, it’s simply a way of welcoming people on to the land and it can only be given by a Traditional Owner or an Elder.”

“An Acknowledgement of Country is provided by the guest, it’s like saying thank you for having me.” 

2. Can anyone do an Acknowledgement of Country?

“Yes, absolutely!” says Carla. “In fact an Acknowledgement of Country is a wonderful way for non-Indigenous people to participate in Indigenous culture and to demonstrate their Allyship.”

3. Why should I do an Acknowledgement of Country?

“Acknowledging Country is a powerful act of Allyship, an inspiring act of leadership and it contributes to Reconciliation,” explains Carla. 

“When you Acknowledge Country you are publicly recognising that the land you are on was first inhabited by the Traditional Owners for tens of thousands of years prior to the arrival of Europeans. It was not “Terra Nullius”, the land was never ceded and the Traditional Owners continue their connection to Country to this day.” 

“It will be deeply appreciated by any Indigenous people that might be present and it’s also an opportunity to enlighten and inspire non-Indigenous people. It definitely helps create a kinder, more inclusive Australia.”

4. When should I do an Acknowledgement of Country?

“We are all becoming familiar with the Acknowledgement of Country at large public events,” says Carla, “but Aunty Munya has taught me you can do this at any time, even when you are alone. She teaches that the old people, or ancestors, are always listening.” 

“We encourage you to open your meetings and events at work with an Acknowledgement of Country, this is a great way to ensure you are creating a culturally safe and inclusive workplace,” says Carla. “But I also encourage you to do it in your home and whenever you are travelling around Australia and entering a new Country.” 

5. What is the correct way to do an Acknowledgement of Country?

“There really is no correct way to do it, and the more you can make it your own the more authentic and inspiring it will be.” explains Carla. “In our Acknowledgement of Country Training we invite participants to workshop their own authentic Acknowledgment that they can deliver with confidence.”

While there is no set script, there are a few things to remember which we share below.

The Three Components of an Authentic Acknowledgement of Country

  1. Wherever possible you should find out the names of the Traditional Owners of the land you are on. Learn the correct way to pronounce their name and Acknowledge them specifically. The map of Indgenous Australia is an excellent resource to help with this. If it’s not clear or is disputed, you can do a general acknowledgment of the Traditional Owners.
  2. Acknowledge Indigenous people in the room and pay your respects to the Elders past and present, but do not mention names of the dead. This is a very important protocol. Recently people have started to acknowledge emerging Elders too – this is optional.
  3. Be sincere in your Acknowledgment. Take a breath and speak from the heart.

If you are new to Acknowledging Country and/or would like to encourage others in your workplace to adopt this practice, our Acknowledgement of Country Cards are a great place to start. Hand them out amongst your colleagues and invite them to read this article – the more people who not only adopt this practice, but truly understand its significance, the closer we will be to reaching our goal of inspiring ten million Allies to create a kinder, more inclusive Australia!

Acknowledgement of Country Training

Love and Acknowledge Country with Aunty Munya and Carla. Embed this practice into your workplace with a live, interactive and fun 45-minute webinar.

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