What is a Welcome to Country?
Have you experienced or seen a Welcome to Country in-person, online or on TV?
A Welcome to Country is a ceremony given by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owners or Elders who have been given permission to welcome visitors onto their Traditional land.
Protocols for welcoming visitors to Country have been part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures for thousands of years. Traditionally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups had clear boundaries separating their Country from that of other groups.
Crossing into another group’s Country required a request for permission to enter. When permission was granted, the hosting group would welcome the visitors, offering them 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 landowner group while on their Country.
Today, these protocols have been adapted to fit with contemporary life. However, the essential elements of welcoming visitors and offering safe passage remain in place. A Welcome to Country by the Traditional Owners of Country gives all of us the opportunity to think deeply about what it means to gain our livelihoods, to nurture our families, and to be on other people’s lands.
Reconciliation Australia advises that in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, the meaning of Country is more than just ownership or connection to land, as Professor Mick Dodson explains:
“When we talk about traditional ‘Country’…we mean something beyond the dictionary definition of the word. For Aboriginal Australians…we might mean homeland, or tribal or clan area, and we might mean more than just a place on the map. For us, Country is a word for all the values, places, resources, stories and cultural obligations associated with that area… It describes the entirety of our ancestral domains. While they may all no longer necessarily be the title-holders to land, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are still connected to the Country of their ancestors and most consider themselves the custodians or caretakers of their land.”
When do I include a Welcome to Country?
A Welcome to Country usually happens at the beginning of a formal event such as a conference, seminar or festival where people are coming from outside the local area. A Welcome can take many forms, including singing, dancing, smoking ceremonies, or a speech in Traditional language and/or English.
Sometimes there are cultural sensitivities for identifying the Traditional Owners of an area or region, for example, in the Greater Brisbane area. When this occurs, the Queensland Government Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships (DATSIP) advises us to consult with each of the Traditional Owner Groups independently and limit the Welcome to Country to only one of the suggested groups. Where there are cultural sensitivities, it is recommended to give an Acknowledgement of Country and engage a local Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander group to provide a cultural expression of acknowledging Country. The expression could be as a poem, song, dance or one of the many varied forms of expression.
You can find a list of the known Traditional Owners for UQ campuses and sites in Part 2: People, Chapter 5.
Nunukul Yuggera Aboriginal Dancers Welcome to Country at UQ NAIDOC Festival 2020 Opening Ceremony (YouTube, 16m24s), Great Court UQ St Lucia Campus.
Have you ever given an Acknowledgement of Country at the beginning of a meeting, event or presentation? Perhaps you felt nervous, a little anxious about stumbling on words or getting it wrong… it’s ok, this section will give you some information and examples, and with some practice you might feel more experienced and confident.
What is an Acknowledgement of Country?
An Acknowledgement of Country is an opportunity for anyone to show respect for Australia’s Traditional Owners, and for the continuing connection that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have to the land, sea, sky and waterways. An Acknowledgement of Country can be given by an Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander or non-Indigenous person, and is generally offered at the beginning of a meeting, speech or formal occasion.
The most appropriate person is the person opening an event, chair of a committee or meeting. Best practice is to not presume that the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person in the room will provide the Acknowledgement of Country. The presence of a non-Indigenous person in the room providing an Acknowledgement of Country shows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that non-Indigenous people have given thought to what an Acknowledgement of Country means for them and for the occasion.
An Acknowledgement can be given in person, on teleconferences or through online platforms such as Zoom. When given through an online platform, the speaker acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the Country on which they are located, and extends the acknowledgement to the Traditional Owners of the land on which participants are joining into the conference, meeting or seminar from. The speaker does not need to name each Traditional Owner Group but rather is acknowledging that there are unique and diverse Traditional Owners for areas across the continent and surrounding islands, today known as Australia.
Watch this Acknowledgement of Country (YouTube, 2m20s) video to see UQ staff and students acknowledging Country.
To include a spoken Acknowledgement of Country at the beginning of an event, meeting or gathering
The University of Queensland recommends a short and longer version for Acknowledging Country.
When to speak a short face-to-face version for Acknowledging Country
You may use the shorter version if you are not the first person to Acknowledge Country or in a more informal setting or thanking a Traditional Owner for welcoming people to Country
I (too,) acknowledge the (* people as) Traditional Owners and their custodianship of the lands on which we meet today and pay my respect to their Ancestors and their descendants.
When to speak the longer face-to-face version for Acknowledging Country
If you are the main speaker at the event/gathering or the first person to present, it is appropriate to use the longer version for Acknowledging Country.
I acknowledge the (* people as) Traditional Owners and their custodianship of the lands on which we meet today. On behalf of ** I pay our respects to their Ancestors and their descendants, who continue cultural and spiritual connections to Country. We recognise their valuable contributions to Australian and global society.
Suggested wording for acknowledging Country on an online platform e.g. Zoom or Microsoft Teams
I acknowledge the (* people as) Traditional Owners and their custodianship of the land from which I join you today. I acknowledge too the Traditional Owners of the lands from which you are joining into this ***. On behalf of (**organisation) I pay our respects to their Ancestors and their descendants, who continue cultural and spiritual connections to Country. We recognise their valuable contributions to Australian and global society.
Suggested wording for a written Acknowledgement of Country
The authors/ organisation acknowledge/s the Traditional Owners and their custodianship of the lands on which the authors/ organisation are located. We pay our respects to their Ancestors and their descendants, who continue cultural and spiritual connections to Country. We recognise their valuable contributions to Australian and global society.
Remember to pause briefly after Acknowledging Country as a sign of respect. If you are more familiar with Acknowledging Country, you may add a statement about the event, meeting or forum’s connection with Country. For example, at a higher education event, you might acknowledge that the campus has always been a space for teaching, learning, research and collaboration tens of thousands of years before it was established as a UQ campus, and education on Country continues today.
A growing number of publications, websites and email signatures include a written Acknowledgement of Country. Positioning of the Acknowledgement depends on the format of the document or site. For example, in a publication, it might appear on the page following copyright advice.
If known, add the Traditional Owners’ language group/ nation/clan. You can refer to the Traditional Owner Groups of UQ Campuses and Sites guide to identify the Traditional Owners of UQ campuses and sites. You may need to contact the local regional office of DATSIP to understand who the Traditional Custodians are in Queensland.
Why are Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement 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 peoples and non-Indigenous Australians today. Including a formal recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in events, meetings, and national symbols is one way 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 and Traditional Custodians of the land. It shows an understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ ongoing connection to place, and shows respect for Traditional Custodians.
Through deeply reflecting and thinking about the profound connection and belonging that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have with Country and about your own connection, you can deepen your understanding of acknowledging Country and what it means to you.
- You might begin your research with questions including “If known, who are the Traditional Owners of Country you are acknowledging and what are those communities’ stories? What were the communities’ experiences of colonisation – historically and currently? Are there local Community-controlled organisations in the area?”
- You might start to reflect on your own experience with Country with questions including “What is my connection to Country and to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with a belonging to this Country? As I’m deepening my understanding, how am I positioned in terms of my heritage and family lines?”
- You might then start to think about “How do I translate these ideas and knowledges into acknowledging Country?”