By motivational keynote speaker, Lucy Bloom.
I attend a lot of events all over Australia as a professional speaker and I have noticed a trend. When events are hosted by government, they are always opened with a Welcome to Country from a local indigenous person or at least an Acknowledgement of Country from one of us blow-ins. However, outside schools, government departments and council events, this basic sign of respect for the traditional owners of the land is a bit hit and miss in the event industry.
We have just had the day of mourning which is National Sorry Day and that kicked off Reconciliation Week in Australia. Now is the perfect time to make this sign of respect a fixture at all events, for the people who have managed the best venue in the world for 65,000 years.
I asked my Koori mate Sheree Stewart, a registered midwife from the Wergaia people, what Welcome to Country means to her.
“Welcome or acknowledgment is about creating a space to say you are on a certain Country that feeds, homes and provides for us. Acknowledge her, don’t be a jerk about it and then you are most welcome to celebrate on our land with us,” says Sheree. She’s from Mallee in Victoria which she describes as “a gorgeous place of stark blue sky and infinite red sand.” Her connection to Country is incredibly strong and generous in its welcoming spirit.
“Welcome to Country to me means having an elder of that particular land you are standing on, welcoming you to it. Sounds obvious, I know, but it runs deeper than that. It is a sign of respect, of solidarity, inclusion and togetherness. Welcoming you to Country is like bringing someone home to meet your mother. Once you have met the mother, you are home with family and you gotta treat the mother right.”
If you cannot have an elder of the local tribe for your event, acknowledgment of Country is the next best thing. This can be presented by anyone in attendance. See this fact sheet for protocols.
When I begin a speech these days, I start by acknowledging that I am a white woman born on the land of the Zulu and the Ndebele in Southern Africa. My heritage reaches back to western Europe before that. I am from a lineage of persistent blow-ins and I am grateful to be welcome in Australia. Then I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we have gathered. In my home town of Sydney, that’s the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. If you are unsure which mob you should be acknowledging, refer to this Aboriginal map of Australia which is produced by AIATSIS. I have a copy of this map on my fridge to remind my Airbnb guests who lived here first.
Acknowledgment of Country should not be read like another aspect of event housekeeping. It’s a ritual. It should be spoken with honour. It could be something like the words below, but they should be natural and respectful. “I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we stand and I am honoured to pay tribute to their elders – past, present and emerging. I also acknowledge that this always was and always will be Aboriginal land.” That last sentence is important.
If you are an event planner in Australia, Welcome to Country or Acknowledgement of Country is a must in any program. It doesn’t matter if every speaker acknowledges Country, at the start of each session, in fact, that is wonderful. It’s a grounding and ritual way to quieten the audience, bring their attention together in respect, togetherness and inclusion, and then to begin.
Here are the reasons why event planners should always allow for Welcome or Acknowledgement of Country.
If you'd like to know more about Lucy Bloom click here, or call us on 1300 55 64 69