What is Welcome to Country?
In a Welcome to Country ceremony, Indigenous Traditional Custodians officially welcome visitors to their Country. The ceremony can take many forms, including singing, dancing, smoking ceremonies or a speech, depending on the particular culture of the original custodians.
For information about Welcome to Country and its significance for Indigenous people, check out our Welcome to Country article here (insert link).
When is it appropriate to arrange Welcome to Country?
Historically, Welcome to Country has been practiced when two or more Indigenous groups come together. Today, it's appropriate to arrange Welcome to Country when gathering people together from different places to attend a public event that will be visible externally to your organisation.
If you're arranging Welcome to Country, we recommend allowing yourself time to find out a bit about local Indigenous people before you approach anyone. Learning about local people, culture and history in the region will help you enter into conversations somewhat informed and aware of the context. A good place to start is searching your local council website or checking our Where Do I Live? resources (LINK).
Engaging with local people is a good opportunity to learn directly about your local context and deepen your knowledge and understanding. Be aware that not all land borders are agreed upon by everyone, and there could be tensions between neighbouring groups regarding land boundaries as a result of colonisation.
To find out more about the significance of connection to Country from an Indigenous perspective, watch this video to hear Indigenous people from across Australia share about the way they understand and relate to land: http://www.australianstogether.org.au/stories/detail/importance-of-land
Who can do Welcome to Country?
Welcome to Country is done by Indigenous Traditional Custodians of the land where the event is taking place.
Responding to Welcome to Country
We encourage you to respond to Welcome to Country to express gratitude towards the Traditional Custodians for welcoming you onto their Country. It's appropriate to draw on your own cultural heritage in responding.
For example, performing a song, reciting a poem or saying a few words in your own traditional language. Over time, individuals will develop their own preferred style and approach to a response to Welcome to Country, and this will change depending on the context of the event or meeting.
You might also wish to include an Acknowledgement of Country in your response (for more information about Acknowledgement of Country LINK).
Here’s an example of what you could say in response to Welcome to Country:
It is a privilege to be standing on ................................................... (traditional name) country, and I thank you for your Welcome to Country. Where I come from/in my culture, one of the ways we thank people/come together is by ..........................................(expression of gratitude). I respectfully acknowledge the past and present Traditional Custodians of this land on which we are meeting, the .............................. (traditional name/s) people.
Where can you look for someone to conduct Welcome to Country?
If you contact a local Indigenous organisation, they can likely connect you to someone who can conduct Welcome to Country. To find a local Indigenous organisation, we suggest you:
- Find out who are the original custodians of the land where you're hosting the event.
- Check our Where Do I Live? resources.
- Try doing an internet search for the name of the group (i.e. Wurundjeri), followed by council, cooperative or organisation.
- Ask your local Council.
In larger urban contexts, there may be several Indigenous organisations you could approach, whereas in a rural context, there will usually be fewer people who can conduct Welcome to Country.
What to do if a Traditional Custodian is unavailable
If a Traditional Custodian is unavailable to conduct Welcome to Country, or can’t make it on the day due to illness or unforeseen events, it's still possible to pay respect to the Traditional Custodians of the land. If possible it's best to ask an Indigenous person from another area to conduct an Acknowledgement of Country. If this isn't an option, it's appropriate for you to give an Acknowledgement of Country.
What's Acknowledgement of Country?
An Acknowledgement of Country recognises the Indigenous Traditional Custodians of the land and their long continuing relationship with that Country. It's a way of showing awareness of and respect to the Traditional Custodians of the land on which an event is being held.
An Acknowledgment of Country can be formal or informal and, unlike a Welcome to Country, can be delivered by a non-Indigenous person or an Indigenous person who is not a Traditional Custodian of the land where the event is being held.
When is Acknowledgement of Country appropriate?
As with Welcome to Country, it's appropriate to conduct an Acknowledgement of Country when gathering people together from different places to attend a public event that will be visible externally to your organisation. While it's become the practice for some organisations (e.g. local councils) to have an Acknowledgement of Country every time they meet, this isn't necessary.
Ideas for Acknowledgement of Country
Although there are no set protocols or phrasing for an Acknowledgement of Country, it commonly involves something along the following lines: “I would like to acknowledge that this event is being held on the lands of the (appropriate group) people, and pay my respect to Elders both past and present.”
Using a generic script for Acknowledgement of Country can come across as token, but it's an ok step if you're doing this for the first time.
Personalising and localising an acknowledgment will help make it as meaningful as possible. Try to incorporate your own connection to place and the local knowledge and stories you've been learning into your acknowledgement.
Ultimately, Acknowledgement of Country that comes from a place of genuine relationship with local people is ideal. Direct relationship with local people can bring an even deeper level of authenticity and meaning to your acknowledgement.
Examples of Acknowledgement of Country
If you do feel the need for a script or a framework to get you started, have a look at these examples:
I would like to Acknowledge the (insert name of group) people who are the Traditional Custodians of this land. We acknowledge their living culture and their unique role in the life of this region. I would also like to pay respect to Elders both past and present of the_______________ people and extend that respect to other Aboriginal people present. I would like to show my respect and acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Land, of Elders past and present, on which this meeting takes place.
I wish to acknowledge the (insert name of group) and their ancestors, the Traditional Custodians of the land where this school is built. For hundreds of generations, people have met on this land to live and learn together, as we meet here to learn together today.
We wish to acknowledge the Aboriginal people God placed upon this land and in particular the (insert name of group) people, the first custodians and caretakers of the land upon which we now build our lives and gather to worship.
It's also appropriate to include an Acknowledgement of Country in your email signature, on your website, on your Facebook page and/or printed materials that you publish (i.e. newsletter).
Sample email signature Acknowledgement:
I live and work on [insert name of local Traditional Custodians] land.
Sample website/Facebook Acknowledgement:
We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which our company/organisation is located and where we conduct our business. We pay our respects to Elders, past and present. [Company/organisation] is committed to honouring Indigenous peoples’ unique cultural and spiritual relationships to the land, waters and seas and their rich contribution to society.
Sample printed materials Acknowledgement:
[Company/organisation] acknowledges the Indigenous people as the Traditional Custodians of the lands where we live, learn and work.
Important things to consider
Try to book a Traditional Custodian as early as possible. Be aware that Indigenous Elders have many demands on their time, and don’t assume they'll be available even if the event is several months away.
Be prepared to pay
There's usually a fee attached to Welcome to Country. Elders are consultants in the community, and conducting Welcome to Country should be regarded as an Elder’s paid job. Remember that in non-Indigenous culture, specialised knowledge isn't given away for free. If an Indigenous person chooses to work with you in any capacity, i.e. giving a performance, delivering a speech or Welcome to Country, it's appropriate to pay them for their time, expertise and knowledge, just like any other professional.
Respect the ceremony
Welcome to Country is a very significant ceremony for many Indigenous people, and should be respected accordingly. Some aspects of the ceremony could make members of your group uncomfortable. For example, it’s not uncommon for Custodians to conduct a smoking ceremony or speak about ancestral spirits.
We suggest that your cultural liaison person speaks to the Traditional Custodian prior to the event to determine what's involved. This will help you prepare your group for what to expect. You may wish to remind them that this is all part of respectfully listening to Indigenous people.
Consider a cultural liaison
We suggest you appoint a cultural liaison from your organisation to communicate with the local Indigenous community. Look for someone culturally sensitive who has a basic level of awareness and understanding about local culture and community dynamics.
There are hundreds of distinct Indigenous groups in Australia with unique cultures, languages and beliefs. There's significant variation between, and even within, Indigenous communities. Every community will have some similarities, but there might also be different customs, ways of communicating and sensitive issues. It’s important to be aware that one Indigenous person may not necessarily be the sole voice for the whole community in which they live.
Who is an Elder?
An Indigenous Elder is someone recognised within their community as a custodian of cultural knowledge and law. A recognised Indigenous community leader could also gain Elder status within their community. In some instances, Indigenous people above a certain age will refer to themselves as Elders. However, age isn’t a prerequisite, and doesn’t automatically make someone an Elder. The important thing is that the community recognises the individual as an Elder.
The best way to find out if someone is an Elder is to ask them politely, or learn from members of the Elder’s Indigenous community. Some Indigenous Elders are given the title Uncle or Aunty. This title is generally bestowed on someone by their community. Some Elders may choose to use the title publicly, others might reserve the title for those they have a personal connection with. It’s best practice to ask an Elder if they wish to be referred to as Uncle or Aunty before adopting these titles.
Who is a Traditional Owner/Custodian?
The term ‘Traditional Owner’ is used to refer to an Indigenous person who’s directly descended from the original Indigenous occupants of a culturally defined area, and is culturally connected to their Country. This can be a sensitive topic, as gaining or being denied recognition as a Traditional Owner/Custodian can cause tension within and between Indigenous groups and families.
Some people prefer the term ‘Custodian’ over ‘Owner’, as it’s more reflective of the role of Indigenous people in caring for the land rather than ‘owning’ it in the western sense.The term Traditional Owner seeks to fit Indigenous systems (of landcare, kinship and governance) into a framework that’s more easily recognised and understood by non-Indigenous people, i.e. land ownership. Whilst these terms are widely used, understood and accepted, a preferable alternative is to replace the word ‘Traditional’ with the name of the relevant specific people group, such as ‘Wurundjeri Custodian’.
Be aware of cultural responsibilities
Indigenous Elders carry many responsibilities, both within Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. When engaging with Indigenous people in your region, be respectful of the many demands on their time and try to avoid adding unnecessary pressure.
Take it slow
It can take significant time to build up trust and respect within an Indigenous community. What's important to you may not be as important to the people you are working alongside. The Indigenous community should dictate the pace of any engagement.
Be aware of cultural perceptions of time
Many Indigenous people don’t operate at the same pace and to the same timetable as the non-Indigenous community. Non-Indigenous culture tends to be compulsively time conscious and task focussed, while Indigenous people often place more emphasis on relationships and events.
When planning your event, you may want to prepare for a relaxed style of event and consider having a fixed start time but keeping the finish time open-ended and the event schedule flexible.
For more information and guidelines to using appropriate language, download our Cultural Terminology Guidelines here.