Writing a meaningful Acknowledgement of Country
WORDS BY: SARAH HOMAN / 25.08.2021
The Equality Institute (EQI) has recently written an Acknowledgement of Country for our own organisation, and it was a necessarily humbling process. We have tried to speak from the heart and set commitments for our work alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
WORDS BY: SARAH HOMAN / 25.08.2021
The process matters. At EQI, we believe that how we work is as important as what we do. It matters that we, as a non-Indigenous organisation, listen to Indigenous people and work through meaningful partnerships.
Megan Davis, Cobble Cobble woman and renowned constitutional lawyer and public law expert, has recently commented that an Acknowledgement of Country in Australia today is, “an ancient cultural practice relating to the regulation of strangers on country, born of recognition, relatedness and reciprocity, [that] has become a welcoming convention for the nation”(1). However, any social convention runs the risk of simply ‘ticking boxes’. I admit I have attended many a public gathering where an Acknowledgement of Country has felt performative. I can only imagine how disrespectful this must be for Indigenous people to hear. As Bundjalung woman Rhoda Roberts says, oftentimes an Acknowledgement of Country performed by a non-Indigenous person “lacks heart”(2).
To develop our Acknowledgement of Country, first and foremost, we drew inspiration directly from the hard work of colleagues and partners who developed the Central Australian Minimum Standards for the Men's Behaviour Change Programs and Hopeful, Together, Strong: Principles of good practice to prevent violence against women in the Northern Territory. These foundational resources offered a structure to follow that had been written with and by Aboriginal communities working in our field of preventing Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). We also undertook a review process with Aboriginal friends, colleagues, research partners and partner organisations working on VAWG based around Australia, as well as cultural consultants located on Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Country, where EQI was founded. We want to thank them for their generosity, direction, and insights, in guiding this process and our own learning.
Why we do this, matters too. We have written an Acknowledgement of Country, not only because it is an appropriate convention and because it is right that we do. We have also done this to learn and to understand, so we can better stand in allyship with Indigenous people and contribute to a future that is just and free from violence.
Understanding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and connections to Country is, in my opinion, a small but vitally important part of healing and righting past wrongs. When we acknowledge Country, and acknowledge it properly, we are saying, “we see you, we acknowledge you.” This matters. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were not even counted as citizens by the Australian Government until 1967, and are still, to this day, disconnected from community, culture, and Country through the intentional and unintentional actions of non-Indigenous others.
This has had adverse outcomes on Indigenous people’s health and communities. In Australia, Indigenous women are more than three times likely to experience violence than non-Indigenous women (3), are 32 times more likely to be hospitalised due to family violence than non-Indigenous women (4), and are eleven times more likely to die because of assault (5). Every day, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face multiple, intersecting issues around unequal health outcomes, disproportionate and harsh experiences with the justice system and abhorrent racism. For example, we haven’t closed the gap in life expectancy, with Indigenous people living approximately eight to nine years less than non-Indigenous people (6). Furthermore, although Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults only make up around 2% of the population, they constitute 27% of the national prison population (7). An Acknowledgement of Country doesn’t, in and of itself, fix these systemic issues, but it serves to remind us of history and of the facts; this always was and always will be Aboriginal land. Sovereignty was never ceded.
I don’t know what effect reading or hearing the EQI’s Acknowledgement of Country will have for people, but I hope it gives them pause to reflect on these issues. What I do know is that it affected us deeply to write one. This process has helped me, personally, to more profoundly appreciate the culture which has nurtured and shaped our home for more than 60,000 years. Learning about our country’s colonial past and acknowledging that the impacts of colonisation continue to this day is uncomfortable, but important. We need to tell the truth about this history because knowing it allows us to make better, more empathetic choices in the future that contribute to a more equitable society.
For some people, an Acknowledgement of Country is merely symbolic. And they are not wrong. However, symbols are the basis of culture. They convey meaning and bring concepts to life. Everything we do as humans is based on and organised through cultural symbolism. But symbols count for nothing without meaningful action in the fight for justice and substantive rights. We can begin here, with a meaningfully symbolic act, but we need to make sure we don’t end there.
If you feel moved to take meaningful action in your own life or workplace, some suggestions include:
- Next time you speak in public, write a meaningful and contextually specific Acknowledgement of Country, acknowledging the specific Country you are in. Look up which Country you are on here.
- Educate yourself! Consume more content that centres Indigenous people’s voices. You can find some suggestions on where to begin here.
- Diversify your social media feeds. Consume media and content made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
- Support Indigenous-owned businesses.
- Develop a Reconciliation Action Plan for your workplace
- Donate to Indigenous organisations working for social and climate justice. Some suggestions include:
- An Acknowledgement of Country doesn’t need to be specific to Australia. If you live outside Australia, think how a meaningful Acknowledgement of Country might apply to your context and the First Nations people of your local area.
The resources in this post are by no means exhaustive.
We are not experts on these matters, nor do we speak on behalf of any group. We would like to highlight important Indigenous resources including the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), The Uluru Statement and Common Ground. We acknowledge the work that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and people have done, and continue to do, and we would like to champion their work first and foremost.
As allies, we continue to learn and aim to always improve in the work we do, and we welcome feedback. If you have any feedback you'd like to share, please contact us.
- Our Watch (2018) Changing the picture: A national resource to support the prevention of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their children,Our Watch,Melbourne.
- Our Watch (2018).