To ‘acknowledge’ means to recognise the importance or quality of something. This concept and its application in Australia has been imperative to the slow repair of disparities that exists between First Nations People and non-Indigenous Australians. By acknowledging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and in turn, giving them the opportunity to welcome us to Country, we promote an awareness of the history and culture of Indigenous people, as well as contribute to mending a long history of dispossession and colonisation. Further to this, by incorporating welcoming and acknowledgment into official meetings and events, we recognise First Nation Peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of this land.

The difference between an Acknowledgment of Country and Welcome to Country is not often well understood. In light of this, today we seek to explain their meanings, tradition and importance.

Acknowledgment of Country

An Acknowledgment of Country is a statement that shows respect for the Traditional Custodians of the land on which you meet. It is a sign of respect that often takes place at the beginning of an event and is also frequently published in texts and on websites.

As stated by Reconciliation Australia:

“An Acknowledgement of Country is an opportunity for anyone to show respect for Traditional Owners and the continuing connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to Country. It can be given by both non-Indigenous people and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

There is no set script for an Acknowledgment of Country. Personalising and localising an acknowledgment is encouraged as it helps to make it as meaningful as possible. An example of an Acknowledgment would read:

I would like to acknowledge that this meeting is being held on the traditional lands of the (appropriate group) people of the (name of Aboriginal nation) nation, and pay my respect to Elders both past, present and future.

Featured above: Know the Country you’re on | Source: AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia

Welcome to Country

A Welcome to Country is a ceremony performed by Indigenous Traditional Custodians as a recognition of one group crossing into another group’s Country. It comes from an ancient Indigenous tradition that was practiced when one Indigenous community sought permission to enter another clan’s traditional land. As such, it can only be done by Traditional Custodians of the land that you are on. The welcome is a way for the hosting group to welcome visitors whilst also offering protection of their spiritual being during the journey on their land. This offering asks that visitors respect the protocols and rules of the clan whilst on their Country.

As stated by Reconciliation Australia:

“A Welcome to Country occurs at the beginning of a formal event and can take many forms including singing, dancing, smoking ceremonies or a speech in traditional language or English. A Welcome to Country is delivered by Traditional Owners, or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have been given permission from Traditional Owners, to welcome visitors to their Country.”

To learn more about Acknowledgment of Country and Welcome to Country, visit the Australian Government online guide here.

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