While the traditional practices of acknowledging the custodians and seeking permission to enter or use resources from the land and sea have always been in place in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies, this practice is only starting to emerge as a growing convention in modern Australian society.
Cultural practice is to acknowledge traditional custodianship of the land at the commencement of functions, meetings and presentations of government departments and various organisations. This acknowledgement pays respect to the traditional custodians, ancestors and continuing cultural, spiritual and religious practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Further, it provides an increasing awareness and recognition of Australia’s Indigenous peoples and cultures.
Welcome to Country
Welcome to Country gives custodians the opportunity to formally welcome people to their land. The Welcome to Country ceremony should, where possible, be undertaken by Elders, by a locally recognised Aboriginal community spokesperson or, by a locally recognised cultural service provider, for example Aboriginal Medical Service or Aboriginal Land Council.
There is no exact wording when conducting Welcome to Country. The content of the ceremony should be negotiated between the agency and the provider with reference to the nature of the event and the community practices. Generally, the provider will offer participants local Aboriginal history and cultural information and will go on to welcome delegates/participants to the country/land.
When organising a Welcome to Country ceremony, it is important to consider the following factors:
- the Elder or community member is provided with information regarding the audience they are welcoming
- the equipment the Elder or community member is required to use if applicable, for example, a microphone and being on a stage
- offering transport where necessary
Example of a Welcome to Country speech
- Hello my name is [insert name of speaker] a representative/Elder of the [insert organisation or local Indigenous group]. I would like to begin by paying my respect to the local Indigenous people [or insert name of Indigenous people], the traditional custodians of this land where we are meeting upon today. On behalf of the traditional custodians [insert local Indigenous group's name] I welcome you all.
Acknowledgement of Country
Acknowledgment of Country is a way that non-Aboriginal people can show respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage and the ongoing relationship of traditional owners with the land.
A Chair or Speaker begins the meeting by acknowledging that the meeting is taking place in the country of the traditional owners. On occasion, there may be disputes about who the traditional owners are. Those who acknowledge the country, can ‘acknowledge all the traditional owners of the land’ or can ‘acknowledge the traditional owners of this land’ without naming those people. Acknowledging Country in this way will not cause offence where there is some potential or actual dispute around ownership.
Example of an Acknowledgement to Country statement
- I would like to acknowledge that this meeting is being held on the traditional lands of the [insert local Indigenous group's name] or
- I would like to acknowledge that this meeting is being held on Aboriginal land and recognise the strength, resilience and capacity of Aboriginal people in this land
Smoking ceremonies are conducted by Aboriginal people with specialised cultural knowledge. The ceremony aims to cleanse the space in which the ceremony takes place. Given the significant nature of the ceremony, smoking ceremonies are usually only performed at major events.
In providing cultural services such as Welcome to Country, artistic performances and ceremonies Aboriginal people are using their intellectual property. As such, providers of these services should be appropriately remunerated.
Appropriate remuneration and / or assistance should be negotiated between the cultural service provider and the agency, considering:
- travel to and from the event
- public profile of the event