This article is written by Murdoch University Pro Vice Chancellor First Nations Chanelle van den Berg.
One of the questions I hear most often is, ‘What does an Acknowledgement of Country actually mean? Why is it important?’. It’s then followed up with ‘What’s a Welcome to Country? How is that different?’.
The simple answer is that they both have significant cultural meaning, and they show respect for the Traditional Owners of the land.
A Welcome to Country offers safe passage and protection to the visitors on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land. It’s been part of our culture since the beginning, and it calls for the visitor to respect the protocols and rules of the landowner group while on their Country. It is only delivered by Traditional Owners, or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have been given permission from Traditional Owners to welcome visitors to their Country.
An Acknowledgment of Country is a statement that shows you recognise and respect the land that has for thousands of years been cared for by the Aboriginal communities who live there. It’s like saying ‘thank you for having me in your home’.
Personalising your Acknowledgement to Country
So, how do you write one that shows you mean it? Well, there’s a few things you need to know first. It’s important to:
Know whose land you’re on – be specific.
For example, at Murdoch University’s South St campus, we’re situated on the lands of the Whadjuk and Noongar peoples so it’s important to say this. Murdoch University’s Mandurah Campus is situated on the lands of the Bindjareb people of the Noongar Nation.
Adapt your Acknowledgement to suit the context of your organisation, department or to your activity.
What are you achieving on their land? How would you explain your purpose?
For example, if your organisation is geared towards:
Medicines, Noongar people have used bush medicines on these lands for thousands of years.
Education, the Noongar knowledges remain today because of learning practices that have taken place on these lands for thousands of years.
Use the correct and respectful terminology.
Make sure to say Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander or just Aboriginal if required – do not abbreviate it.
Use correct capitalisation if writing it.
Be genuine, show respect for where you are.
You would want to show genuine respect for your friends' home, think of it the same way.
What does your acknowledgement mean to you.
Did you come here from afar, you could mention the lands you travelled from.
For example, “I came from Naarm (Melbourne) to these lands”.
What does it mean for you to be on these lands.
Use only present tense.
An Acknowledgment to Country should be at the beginning of your event or gatherings, but can also be within your email signature, on your website and on signs at the entrances of businesses and homes.
You may not realise it but the impact of incorporating an Acknowledgement of Country is significant to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples around you.
After many years of intergenerational trauma, being taken away from families and fighting for our rights, to hear you acknowledge that it’s our land and you’re honoured to share it with us is an important part of reconciliation.
Recently, students from the Change Agents Program at Murdoch University have begun a project to create an Acknowledgment of Country toolbox that provides an insight into best practices as well as resources, links and information to help staff personalise their Acknowledgement of Country. The resources within the toolbox have been created using local Noongar culture and knowledge from Elders, as well as insights gathered from students and academic staff.
Our students are paving the way forward and making change to provide a safe environment for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
Daily Reconciliation actions
A meaningful and personalised Acknowledgement of Country is one of the biggest steps in reconciliation, as it calls for change and reflection by everyone present.
However, there are many other ways that you can incorporate reconciliation in your everyday life. You might consider:
Listening to First Nations stories and voices.
Taking a cultural tour of your area or workplace.
When you create content, events, or spaces, make sure to think of things from an Indigenous perspective to create a safe environment.
Advocating on social media.
Following and supporting BLAK businesses, influencers and organisations on social media.
Planting a native or bush tucker garden and learn about the cultural significance of the plants.
Engaging with local artists and support their work.
Having a yarning circle.
Embracing Indigenous terminology – have a yarn, learn the local language!
Watching films, read books and listen to podcasts and music produced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Learning and memorising the key dates that affect Indigenous peoples.
I encourage you to consider how you might incorporate these actions into your life, and remember that its many small things that lead to big change.