Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country

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Noongar traditional burning of a grass tree during the Welcome to Country on the opening night of the 2010 Perth International Arts Festival

Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country are protocols sometimes used in Australia at the opening of meetings, launches, special events and official functions. The practice shows respect for the traditional custodians of a particular region or area.[1]

A Welcome to Country is where an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander custodian or elder from the local region welcomes people to their land. This may be done through speech, song, dance or ceremony. Some[who?] report that the Welcome to Country has been a part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander protocol for thousands of years.[1] Others, including Ernie Dingo, say the Welcome to Country is a more recent convention. Ernie Dingo claims his Welcome to Country in 1976 was the first modern-day Welcome to Country.[2] Whatever the origin of the tradition, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander protocols or customs in relation to Welcome to Country are diverse and will vary from region to region.[1]

The Acknowledgement of Country is usually a statement or a speech made by an Aboriginal or a non-Aboriginal to show respect to the traditional custodians of the land. The New South Wales Government has published a document with typical examples of the Acknowledgement of Country; one such example states: "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."[3]

A Welcome of Country does not preclude an Acknowledgement of Country. Following a Welcome to Country by a local indigenous representative, additional speakers may provide an Acknowledgement of Country.

Welcome to Country in Parliament[edit]

In Federal Parliament, both houses start each day with the Lord's Prayer and the Welcome to Country.

The first Welcome to Country at an opening of Parliament was led by Matilda House in February 2008.[4]

Vowing that Welcome to Country would be a permanent feature of future parliamentary openings, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told the nation:

It's taken 41 parliaments to get here. We can be a bit slow sometimes, but we got here. When it comes to Parliaments of the future, this will become part and parcel of the fabric of our celebration of Australia in all of its unity and all of its diversity.[4]

In November 2010, Victorian Liberal Senator Julian McGauran called for the Indigenous Welcome to Country statement to be dropped from the opening of Parliament each day, saying the Welcome to Country is not a prayer and should not be given equivalent status.[5] This was just a few months after Australia's first indigenous member of the House of Representatives, Ken Wyatt was honoured in a special Welcome to Country ceremony in the forecourt to Parliament House.[6]

Fee for service for Welcome to Country[edit]

Most Traditional Owner groups performing Welcome to Country will require payment of at least a nominal fee in return for their services.[7] A NSW Government guideline states "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."[3]

The Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council charges between $385 and $450 for a Welcome to Country ceremony, with a 20 per cent surcharge for night and weekend bookings.[8][9]

Criticism[edit]

In 2012, Northern Territory MP and traditional Warlpiri woman Bess Price told a reporter that Welcome to Country ceremonies were not meaningful to traditional people, saying "We don't do that in communities. It's just a recent thing. It's just people who are trying to grapple at something they believe should be traditional."[10][11]

In 2010, Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott said he thought that, in many contexts, the Welcome to Country seems like out-of-place tokenism.[12] In 2012, Rhonda Roberts, a prominent indigenous Australian and head of Sydney Opera House indigenous programming, echoed Tony Abbott's criticisms.[8]

Similar ceremonies outside of Australia[edit]

Although not called as such, similar salutations may be exchanged in other ex-settler colonial countries with indigenous minorities. An example would be during the 2010 Winter Olympics opening ceremony, when the Squamish Nation, the Musqueam Indian Band, the Lil'wat First Nation, and the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation gave Olympic visitors an official welcome to their traditional territories (Vancouver and Whistler, British Columbia, Canada). In a few cases the Australian usage has been adopted whole cloth, as when engineer Gordon Howell prefaced his remarks to a 2010 conference on housing in Inuvik, NWT with an acknowledgement borrowed from Australian politician Mike Rann.[13]

On 26 January 2013, Kathleen Wynne's speech to the Ontario Liberal Party's leadership convention began with an acknowledgement of country for the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation.[14]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Welcome to Country". Office of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. 20 March 2012. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  2. ^ "Ernie Dingo claims the first welcome". The Australian. 17 March 2010. Retrieved 15 June 2012. 
  3. ^ a b "Aboriginal Cultural Protocols". NSW Government. p. 3. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  4. ^ a b Phillip Coorey and Stephanie Peatling (13 February 2008). "A nationa apologises". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  5. ^ "Call to scrap Parliament's welcome to country". ABC News. 24 November 2010. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  6. ^ Lauren Wilson (28 September 2010). "Ken Wyatt welcomed to parliament in traditional ceremony". The Australian. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  7. ^ "Protocols for Recognising Traditional Owners". Victorian Department of Planning and Community Development. 18 February 2013. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  8. ^ a b Andrew Taylor (15 October 2012). "Welcome to country ceremony 'lacks heart'". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  9. ^ "Welcome to Country Booking Request". Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  10. ^ Keith Windschuttle (1 December 2012). "Welcomes to country are being foisted on us in error". The Australian. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  11. ^ Janet Albrechtsen (14 November 2012). "Lemon-lipped new puritans could lighten up a little". The Australian. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  12. ^ Samantha Maiden (15 March 2010). "Tony Abbott reopens culture wars over nods to Aborigines". The Australian. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  13. ^ Edmonton's NetZero Cold Climate Houses – Northern Housing Forum 2010, 24 March 2010
  14. ^ "Kathleen Wynne – Speech to Liberal Convention Delegates", 26 January 2013

External links[edit]