What Is Welcome to Country and Why Do We Do It?

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At every Guardian event we choose to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we stand. It’s a way of teaching our children to value Australia’s long and rich Aboriginal heritage so that they might carry those same sentiments of respect through to adulthood.

This is usually done in one of two ways:

  1. Acknowledgement of Country
  2. Welcome to Country

Acknowledgement of Country

This demonstration of respect takes the form of an address at the start of an event. If you haven’t heard it before, it goes something like this:

We respectfully acknowledge the past and present traditional owners of this land on which we are meeting. It is a privilege to be standing on Gadigal [if you’re from Sydney] country. We also acknowledge the contributions of Aboriginal Australians and non-Aboriginal Australians to the education of all children and people in this country we all live in and share together – Australia.

To speak these words is a way of paying homage to the communities that came before us. It formally and publicly acknowledges Australia’s Indigenous history and paves the way for further dialogue and learning.

Welcome to Country

Welcome to Country is a ceremony performed by an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander with ancestral links to the land on which an event is taking place. It usually involves a speech, song, smoke ceremony, or symbolic exchange.

Why is Welcome to Country an important symbol?

There have been arguments made by commentators at both ends of the political spectrum that Acknowledgement and Welcome to Country is tokenistic and impractical – that it doesn’t change the current health outcomes or educational standards for Aboriginal people. It’s true, it doesn’t. But helping our children understand how important Indigenous Australians are in this country will, in future, work to end cycles of colonialism. It’s also the first step in educating non-Aboriginal children about the connection the first Australians and their descendants have to this land.

In a 2011 press release, Bev Manton, who was then the chairwoman of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, argued, “Australia has a strong history of remembering events and people gone before us.”

“We celebrate and honour our Diggers every year on ANZAC Day. We celebrate the Queen’s birthday; royal weddings, and we even stop the nation for a horse race,” says Manton.

In this same vein, making Welcome to Country a part of formal proceedings all over Australia can lead to stronger relationships between children and members of their local Aboriginal community.

Indigenous Culture at Guardian

Some Centres perform an Acknowledgement of Country on a daily basis in an effort to involve the children as much as possible. In these cases, children are educated about the Aboriginal communities (their language groups, cultural habits etc) that used to inhabit their local areas and encouraged to participate in respecting their past.

“The Guardian Curriculum advocates for children’s rights,” says Head of Curriculum Priscilla Carmichael. “Fundamental to this is the right of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.”

Carmichael is passionate about teaching Guardian children to move past the idea of simply respecting all cultures. “The Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia recognises that ‘cultural competence in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is distinctly different from the broad idea of ‘respecting all cultures’.”

For this reason, we aim to specifically educate our children about Aboriginal customs, cultural practices and symbols of respect.

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