Regular Amplify writer Deborah Hoger, a Dunghutti woman and early years Indigenous educational resources specialist, shares how we can ensure that it’s done with respect and as a way to extend learning and understanding.
By Deborah Hoger
“Here is the land (arms open wide)
And here is the sky (arms pointing to the sky)
Here are my friends (arms pointing to everyone in the group)
And here am I (arms hugging oneself)
We would like to Acknowledge that the Land we are here on today is the traditional lands for the [………] people and that we respect their spiritual relationship with their Country.”
As a Dunghutti mum of two little ones, there is certainly something special about watching the next generation learn and demonstrate respect for our First Nations people and culture at such an early age.
These days, we are seeing more and more early childhood services take that active step to incorporating Indigenous Australia into their learning environments and sharing a daily Acknowledgment to Country is an easy first step to take. It is important though, that those involved in bringing such a practice into the classroom, understand what it is they are doing and why.
What does the term ‘Country’ really mean to Indigenous Australians?
Starting with the ‘why’, we must first understand what the term ‘Country’ means to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, which then helps us to understand why we would ‘Acknowledge’ it.
In Aboriginal culture, the land and waters are viewed as a cultural landscape, one which people value because of their long and complex relationship with a place. It speaks to the tens and tens of thousands of years of history that our people have with this country. This cultural landscape comprises ongoing interrelationships between past and present histories and cultures and is centred on a connection of people to place, of people to their Country.
Country then, is an all-encompassing term which covers the landscape as a whole; the land, seas, waters, air, plants, animals, rocks, hills, as well as the stories and special sites which exist within these features. Aboriginal people have a custodial relationship which involves responsibilities to look after Country, ensuring that it is protected physically, but also sustained spiritually, through cultural songs, practices, and stories.
For Aboriginal people then, when we acknowledge Country, we are acknowledging the deep history and connection of people to place. It demonstrates respect for Aboriginal culture and can function as a starting point in engaging in truth-telling with our children, about an Australian history that begins with Aboriginal people and Country.
A symbol of respect and a sense of pride
I spoke recently with Emma Bamblett (Wemba Wemba, Gunditjmara, Ngadjonji and Taungurung) and Megan Van Den Berg (Dja Dja Wurrung, Yorta Yorta and Boon Wurrung), owners of Kinya Lerrk, a business that creates respectful acknowledgement of country plaques. I asked them what Acknowledgment to Country meant to them.
“The value of having an acknowledgement to Country plaque displayed in a home, office, school or learning environment celebrates the importance of Aboriginal Culture and respectfully acknowledges Traditional Owners of Land.
“We love seeing young people walk into a space where an acknowledgement of Country plaque is displayed and seeing their faces shining with pride.”
To Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people entering a space and seeing or hearing an Acknowledgment to Country, it shows a sense of respect, in that we, as a people, are being respected in that place. For a people who have experienced exclusion and discrimination for so long, such a seemingly small gesture can have a significant impact on how a person feels entering that space.
Acknowledgement to Country vs Welcome to Country
A common question asked is what is the difference between an ‘Acknowledgment’ and a ‘Welcome’ to Country?
Essentially, an Acknowledgement of Country can be said by anyone, Indigenous or non-Indigenous. It is a way of showing respect and appreciation of the ongoing relationship that the traditional custodians have with the land and waters. By acknowledging Country, a person is acknowledging the Elders of that mob and their culture, and they are making a commitment to respect them and their land while they are on it.
A Welcome to Country can only be given by a Traditional Custodian or Elder of the land you are on. Welcoming visitors to their Country has been a part of First Nations cultures for many thousands of years, and today’s ‘Welcome to Country’ is a continuation of this practice in a contemporary context.
Traditionally, when people crossed into another group’s Country, permission was needed to enter. After they received permission, they would be welcomed by the hosting people, offered safe passage and protection during their journey through their Country. It was expected that the visitors would respect the protocols and rules of the people whose Country they were visiting.
Today’s Welcome to Country signifies the Traditional Custodians inviting you onto their land; it is usually given by an Elder or Traditional Custodian whose land you are on, but sometimes such Elders and Traditional Custodians may give permission to another Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person to give a Welcome on their behalf. The Welcoming ceremony may include singing, dancing, smoking ceremonies or a speech in traditional language or English.
Making Acknowledgement to Country a learning opportunity
Many early education services involve the children in creating their own unique Acknowledgement to Country. Doing so may help children take ‘ownership’ and connect with the practice on a more personal level.
As with any activity involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, it should be considered a learning opportunity; do your research, know whose Country you are on, and consult with your local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community and Elders to guide you.
The AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia provides a great starting point for learning about whose Country you are on. It is important to remember that this map includes only the general locations of larger groupings of people which may include clans, dialects or individual languages in a group. However, it is a great visual representation of the richness and diversity of First Nations within Australia. Reaching out to your local mob is important too.
As Leann Graham, Gunai/Kurnai, Yorta Yorta, Dja Dja Wurrung, Gunditjmara, and Wiradjuri children’s author and owner of Yarka Resources tells us,
“Acknowledging Country can lead into many learning opportunities for children and educators. It gives them a foundation to start their learning journey about Indigenous peoples, cultures and histories.
“Doing an Acknowledgement of Country is a small way of taking time to reflect on the long and deep connection the Indigenous people have with the land, and how it provides a context for where we are today. It is a respectful starting point to develop awareness and dive deeper into understanding Indigenous people, land, stories, and culture.”
Taking the time to include an Acknowledgement of Country into your service is a wonderful opportunity for educators to increase awareness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in their educational setting; reminding us that we are always on Aboriginal land, land which for thousands and thousands of years has been cared for by its people.
NAIDOC Week 2020 – a great opportunity to reflect on how your service recognises First Nations people.
The 2020 NAIDOC Week poster is available to be downloaded as a colouring-in sheet. Find the PDF here.
NAIDOC Week’s 2020 theme is Always Was, Always Will Be and recognises that First Nations people have occupied and cared for this continent for over 65,000 years. This year NAIDOC Week will be celebrated from 8-15 November.
Find out more about NAIDOC Week at naidoc.org.au/get-involved/2020-theme
Have you seen our new live webinar training calendar?
Many sessions to choose from including new sessions specifically related to the current pandemic environment, and many of our most popular training topics redesigned for webinar format.
Topics are delivered in a variety of 2- 3 hour sessions or 2 part series. Every course provides a practical, hands-on approach to professional development.
CELA has been supporting the professional needs of the early and middle childhood sector for over 40 years. We trained over 4,500 sector professionals in 2019.