Inspired by recent conversations with people wanting to learn more about sharing a meaningful Acknowledgement of Country, I am capturing my perspective from many years of thinking and personal research. This is my personal perspective on how to share an Acknowledgement of Country.
I remember the first event where I experienced Welcome to Country. It was in 2012 at a conference. I was surprised and overwhelmed. It made my heart sing that it was happening and I wondered if other people felt that way, or if it was just me. I had seen been present for ceremonies by Traditional Owners and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups before, but this was my first experience of a corporate or business event having a Traditional Owner welcome participants to their lands. I was not expecting it, but I thought it was appropriate, and I appreciated it.
Since then I have been present for Welcome to Country a few times, but with growing frequency I see Acknowledgement of Country, and often share one myself. Over time I have done a lot of my own research to explore the “right” way to do things. I want to be respectful, purposeful and to share knowledge. I felt nervous about doing the wrong thing. Wondered if people would question me or be critical. Hoped that doing it would leave people with a positive impression and the curiosity to explore the history of First Nations people in their area. Maybe, it would encourage people to do the same.
Through my research over the years in preparation for events big and small I have learned about the Traditional Owners of the lands I live on, work on, where I was born and the lands of my own family. I have even explored how to approach paying similar respect in Aotearoa (New Zealand) when organising a large online event. At a high level what I know now is:
- Being respectful is the most important thing
- Trying with good intentions and research is always appreciated
- Local knowledge is key, what is tradition of one area is not necessarily the tradition of another
- What you know today could be wrong tomorrow, keep on learning
In the spirit of reconciliation and sharing knowledge here is my advice on how to prepare to deliver your own Acknowledgement of Country.
I approach this with a simple breakdown that includes my own experienced an, tips and links to references:
- Learn: Do some research before you start.
- Prepare: Write your acknowledgement informed by your research.
- Practice: If it’s your first time, practice to get comfortable with pronunciation and tone.
- Share: Deliver your Acknowledgement of Country ant the beginning of your meeting or event.
- Repeat: Never stop learning.
I strongly encourage you to do your own research. This post and others like it are helpful perspectives, but you should look to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups or government organisations examples and guidance.
Visit Reconciliation Australia to learn about the difference between Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country. This is important.
- Welcome to Country is delivered by Traditional Owners
- Acknowledgement of Country may be delivered by anyone (this means you)
Find out who the Traditional Owners are of the land where you live, where you work, or where you are speaking from if part of an event.
AIATSIS advices looking to local government websites as they are likely to have worked with Traditional Owners and may have an Acknowledgement on their website. They have an excellent map which you can buy or licence but it is unlikely to help you figure out the Traditional Owners of a specific location.
Your research will set you up to deliver an Acknowledgement which is meaningful. Shelley Reys’ TEDx Sydney presentation is a must watch mini masterclass in Acknowledgement of Country.
Once you have done your research you are ready to prepare your Acknowledgement.
Start simple with recommendations from First Nations organisations. You can build it as you learn.
Reconciliation Australia provides examples of what you can say or write which are an excellent starting point. You may like to see if your company has any guidance, to look to local Traditional Owner groups, or look to local, state and national government organisations for examples.
I have adjusted how I deliver Acknowledgement of Country over time as I have learned more about Traditional Owners and the message I want to convey.
The Australian Government Style Manual has detailed guidance on how be culturally appropriate and sensitive when writing with, for or about First Nations Australians. I came across it while researching for this post.
There are three elements to consider:
Spoken words: If commencing a meeting or event, recording a presentation or creating a podcast, you will want to have a researched and practiced Acknowledgement to deliver. I think if you are the person delivering the Acknowledgement it has the most meaning and impact to to be specific about the Traditional Owners of the land from which you are speaking. If you are not from Australia but speaking to an Australian audience then you may like to generalise.
Written words: In a presentation you may want a slide which conveys your Acknowledgement. It is also common for people to include an Acknowledgement on websites, in documents and in emails. In some instances I have created a slide which has a more general Acknowledgement with alternatives of wording or placeholders to make it relevant to local knowledge.. That slide can either be adjusted, or the speaker can simply deliver something more specific or personal.
Imagery: If including visual elements with your Acknowledgement it is important to ensure that you have the licence to use any images and that they are culturally sensitive. If you would like to include imagery consider sourcing it from an organisation that supports First Nations creators and artists.
Practice is an important part of preparation. Speaking words from an unfamiliar language can be difficult and practice will work out any nerves. When learning how to welcome people to a meeting in Maori I consulted someone I knew who was familiar with the language, I listened to audio of how to pronounce it correctly, and I practiced, a lot.
I have not heard an Acknowledgement of Country delivered completely in the language of Traditional Owners. I wouldn’t recommend attempting reading in a local language without the support of an experienced speaker. Generally you will need to know the name of the Traditional Owners and perhaps the nation and maybe the Traditional name for the area. The City of Adelaide provide a translation in the language of the Kaurna peoples, which is not something I have seen before.
To help with pronunciation try searching for video or audio of Traditional Owners speaking the names, or even looking at SBS or ABC News recordings.
An Acknowledgement of Country is usually shared at significant or large internal or external meetings and events particularly when a Traditional Owner can’t be present.
Guidance from indigenous.gov.au says “It should be delivered at significant/large internal meetings or meetings with external participants e.g. branch meetings, inter-departmental meetings etc.”
In my experience I have delivered, heard or been present for Acknowledgement of Country at team meetings, “all hands” company-wide meetings, online conferences, in-person conferences, podcasts and training sessions. It is less about right or wrong, and more about the purpose and meaning. I think it is better to reserve it for larger and significant events, than to have the importance diminished by including it as a regular agenda item at a weekly meeting. My opinion, open to discussion.
When delivering Acknowledgement of Country at your meeting or event it should be done at the beginning. This is specific to it’s purpose. As a way to pay respects in the absence of Traditional Owners who would welcome people to the meeting, the event and to their Country.
Be open to the idea that there is more you don’t know than you do. But don’t let that stop you moving forward.
I have shared my Acknowledgement of Country on this website and will continue to update it as I learn more about the Traditional Owners of the lands where I work, live, where I grew up and where my family is from.