06 July 2020
Do you know the difference between a Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country? Here’s the quick guide to the differences between the two.
Welcome to Country
A Welcome to Country is delivered by an Elder, Traditional Owner or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person who have been given permission from Traditional Owners, to welcome visitors to their Country. A Welcome to Country occurs at the beginning of a formal event, meeting or speech and can take many forms including singing, dancing, smoking ceremonies or a speech in traditional language or English.
Protocols for welcoming visitors to Country have been a part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures for thousands of years. Despite the absence of formal fences or visible borders, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups had clear boundaries separating their Country from that of other groups. Traditionally it is a ceremony to not only welcome an outsider to Country but also grants permission to enter their land, outlines protocols of entry and is an offering of safe passage.
Today, much has changed and these protocols have been adapted to contemporary society. However, the essential elements of welcoming visitors and offering safe passage remain in place. It also now serves to distinguish Traditional Owners and their enduring connection to Country.
Acknowledgement of Country
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 people to Country. It can be given by both non-Indigenous people and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
There are no set protocols or wording for an Acknowledgement of Country, though often a statement may take the following forms.
- General: I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today. I would also like to pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging.
- Specific: I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today, the (people) of the (nation) and pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging.
Similar to a Welcome to Country, an Acknowledgement of Country is generally offered at the beginning of a meeting, speech or formal occasion.
Why is a Welcome to Country or Acknowledgement of Country so important?
Including welcoming and acknowledgement protocols into official meetings and events recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners of this land. It promotes an ongoing connection to place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and shows respect for Traditional Owners.
In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, the meaning of Country is more than just ownership or connection to land.
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 and its features. It describes the entirety of our ancestral domains.”
And here is Rhoda Roberts AO and Welcome to Country board member discussing the significance of a Welcome to Country.
- Stanford, Lindsay. “What Is the Difference between a Welcome to Country & an Acknowledgement of Land?” Blakworks Employment Solutions, Blakworks Employment Solutions, 19 Sept. 2016, www.blakworks.com.au/blog/what-is-the-difference-between-a-welcome-to-country-an-acknowledgement-of-land.
- Australia, Reconciliation. “Welcome to and Acknowledgement of Country.” Reconciliation Australia, 2020, www.reconciliation.org.au/.
- Image Credit: Tourism Australia