The day I learnt how to take a standard Acknowledgement of Country example and make it my own. I share this story from a personal, not professional place.
Let me start by saying that I am a well-intentioned yet ignorant ally of Indigenous people.
So for instance, I’ve always thought an Acknowledgement of Country, the simplest of acts of respect and recognition, was the right thing to do. However, I’ve never done one, because I don’t know anything about them protocol wise, never truly understood the meaning and would be scared to get it wrong, and get cancelled. That’s the truth.
And yes, I am also an oversharer, thank you for noticing.
My brilliant colleague Sakina Javed, tracked down Rhys Paddick, Aboriginal Educator, and downright hilarious human, to talk to me about acknowledgements of country on an episode of Commical. He did much more. He empowered me to explore my own connection to Indigenous land, people and culture and to personalise my Acknowledgements.
What is an Acknowledgment of Country?
An Acknowledgement of Country is a sign of respect for our First Nations people and recognises them as the original custodians of the land we now share.
It is normally the first part of an event or meeting and can be done by indigenous or non-Indigenous people. There is no set length, no set script, and Rhys taught me that it can absolutely be written from the perspective of the person delivering it, or even the place it is delivered to or from.
We’ve all heard this:
“I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today. I would also like to pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging.”
I’ve learnt that yes, that is a sound, solid and safe Acknowledgement of Country. And for those who are not yet comfortable enough to personalise – IE me before meeting Rhys – this is still a small but good step ahead of an event if you wish to recognise and respect our First Nations people.
But the real beauty of personalising an Acknowledgement of Country, is what you learn along the way. The process of researching Aboriginal Australia, honing in on the distinct country you may live or work and who the traditional custodians are. What language they spoke and continue to speak, the special people or places in your local area and their history. For me anyway, this was by far the best part of writing an Acknowledgement of Country of my own.
Personalising an Acknowledgement of Country
What good teacher doesn’t put you to the test? Rhys generously took the time to read some of the acknowledgements I’d written, and provided feedback on their appropriateness. As an amateur comedian but a serious comms professional, I wanted to ensure that my personal style wasn’t going to take away from the seriousness of the acknowledgement.
Scenario: I’m kicking off the first team meeting of the year.
Good morning! I’m joining you today from the Eora nation, also known as Sydney. A place I’ve lived and worked for the last 20 years, a place that is the traditional land of the Gadigal people.
✅ to the point
✅ different to the expected “script”
Scenario: I’m conducting a webinar over zoom.
Thank you all for joining today. We come together over zoom – for which we give thanks to the techie people of silicon valley, whom we don’t understand but completely respect. All whilst our feet are firmly planted on the beautiful Aboriginal land that unites us, with thanks to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, past and present.
✅ light / fun
✅ good analogy with online vs where feet are planted – I like!
I would also allow myself room to extend this if you feel confident! Remember you can still talk about yourself!
Scenario: I’m giving a speech to a group of university students, about my marketing career.
Let me start by telling you all a little bit about me. I grew up in Bankstown, home to Darug and Eora people for many thousands of years before European Settlement. Looking around the Canterbury Bankstown district today, there’s no sight of what it once had in abundance prior to its settlement. Kangaroo, emu, possum, wild honey, plants and roots.
The Bankstown I grew up in was rich in diversity – Vietnamese, Lebanese, Greeks, Chinese and more migrant communities. Bringing with them their many languages and traditions that we now share on this great Aboriginal land. It still is abundant in plants – just not the legal kind.
✅ personal to place
This is my favourite one, there’s not much I’d change. If you’re feeling confident you could also mention the people in the room. I like to do this and thank them for their time and attention.
I wouldn’t just stick to these forever, I like to change them, add things, take things away, adapt it etc. The good thing is that they are all moved away from the “template” which I love!
Ignorance is Embarrassing
When I first approached this topic, I was quite embarrassed that I even had to ask. That I had to reveal to my colleague 10 years my junior (don’t edit that out, Sakina, it’s close enough) that she knew more about indigenous culture than I did. But what is more embarrassing, is living in ignorance and not even trying to learn.
If you’re interested in learning more about Acknowledgements of Country or like me, you want to deepen your understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culture, start now:
- Check out rhyspaddick.com. You’ll find useful information and if you’d like him to help you or your organisation with acknowledgement of country you can contact him through his website. He runs regular workshops on the topic and is also a MC / Keynote speaker – and a great one at that.
- The website Creative Spirits has excellent information on Aboriginal culture, especially for those who are just starting out on their learning journey. This page is specifically about Acknowledgement of Country and offers a guide to help you do it confidently.
- Which part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land do you work or live on? Or are presenting on? Check out the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies’ (ATSIS) map of Indigenous Australia.
- Start following and connecting with Indigenous people and culture online. These three grammers have taught me so much and give me a perspective on news and events that I normally wouldn’t have seen or considered:
I know it’s a small step. But it’s the first of many. Thank you Rhys. I know that for you, it was probably just a 30 minute podcast interview with a brilliant unrecognised comedian. But for me it was an uplifting and eye opening learning experience I will never forget.