There are many ways to recognise the important role Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have in Australia. Taking the time to include a Welcome to Country at a meeting or event or Acknowledgement of Country in Australia is a reminder that you live and work on Indigenous lands every day.
To start, it’s important to learn the difference between an Acknowledgement of Country and a Welcome to Country, and to find ways to incorporate them into events, gatherings, and meetings to show respect and uphold Indigenous cultural protocols.
What Is a Welcome to Country?
A Welcome to Country is often delivered by elders, traditional owners of land, or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. They have permission from other traditional owners of land to welcome outsiders to their country. The welcoming occurs at the beginning of formal events, speeches, or meetings, and can take many forms, including dancing, singing, speeches in traditional languages or English, or smoking ceremonies.
Protocols for welcoming visitors to their country have been part of Indigenous cultures for many years. Despite the absence of visible borders or formal fences, Indigenous Australians have clear boundaries separating their land from that of other people.
Traditionally, Welcome to Country was a ceremony to welcome outsiders and permit them to enter the land. This ceremony also is a means of offering safe passage and defining the protocols of entry.
Today, much has changed. Welcome to Country protocols have adapted to modern society, although the critical elements of offering safe passages and welcoming outsiders are still in place. Welcome to Country protocols also help to distinguish traditional owners and their ongoing connection to the land.
What Is an Acknowledgement of Country?
An Acknowledgement of Country is a way of showing respect for, and awareness of, the traditional owners of the land where an event or meeting occurs. Just like Welcome to Country, its purpose is to recognise and introduce the traditions and importance of the local Indigenous people, but any person—Indigenous or non-Indigenous—can deliver it.
It’s a spoken or written statement that anyone can give to show respect for customs and recognise traditional owners of land, Indigenous people, and their communities. An Acknowledgement of Country is also given at the beginning of an event, speech, or meeting.
There’s no specific wording for this statement, but it must be genuine. If possible, research the country you’re recognising and include some details about the people from that area to show further respect. Examples of an Acknowledgement to Country include:
- “I’d like to start by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land where this event is taking place. Also, I’d like to show my respect and acknowledge elders, past and present.”
- “I’d like to start by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land where we meet today, the [people] of the [nation]. Also, I’d like to acknowledge elders past and present and extend my respect to the Indigenous people present in this meeting today.”
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may wish to pay respect to their people and other Indigenous people present at an event.
An Acknowledgement of Country can also be expanded and adapted to reflect varying contexts–for instance, an author can acknowledge that Indigenous Australians are the land’s first storytellers or a meeting of innovators can recognise the sophistication and contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Incorporating acknowledgement and welcoming protocols into formal events and meetings is a way to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the traditional custodians of the land. This promotes the enduring connection to the land by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and shows respect for traditional custodians of the land.
Essentially, Welcome to Country events are protocols used by groups to welcome outsiders to their land. These protocols can be delivered by traditional custodians or Indigenous people who are authorised to welcome outsiders to their country.
On the other hand, an Acknowledgement of Country allows any person to pay their respect to traditional custodians and the ongoing connection of Indigenous people to their country. Unlike a Welcome to Country, an Acknowledgement of Country can be delivered by any person, Indigenous or non-Indigenous.
Want to learn more about what Indigenous land you are on? Take a look at our latest article.