top of page

Acknowledgement of Country + Personal Connection to Country & Place = Cultural Capability

Connection. Everyone seeks it.

When I was a kid, I only every remember an Acknowledgement of Country being delivered in the place of where a welcome wasn’t able to be. Today, we see the modern adoption of this protocol moving into daily practices of schools, workplaces and events, sometimes multiple times throughout the same event. It is something that has shifted from what I remember as a kid, the Acknowledgement of Country aside from its significance Culturally in terms of Country has the impact for Aboriginal people professionally and personally to feel more culturally safe, welcome and ready to bring our full selves to the business at hand.

For many years I sat alongside Cultural capability in the public sector, providing advice and observing the continual growth in curiosity, demand and direction for how to deliver an Acknowledgment of Country meaningfully and appropriately.

Despite the resources, templates, and toolboxes for how to understand the protocol I still personally saw little shift in confidence and capability. I got really curious about this, issues would come up about verbatim scripts and tick box statements sometimes doing more harm than good.

I kept thinking what is missing, what is missing? What has made a great Acknowledgement of Country? I thought about its growth and development. I reflected about Welcomes as a kid, I thought about how in absence of a welcome how I would have acknowledged Country long time ago, and of cource it would start with me placing myself and my connection to country and place before seeking permission and being welcomed onto Country.

Then it hit me! Start with Country! How many people Aboriginal and non Aboriginal understand and know the Aboriginal Place Names of the Country they are connected too? I know I didn’t know ALL of them. And I assumed it may be the same more broadly. We led some research gathering data from close to 100 people who reinforced this hypothesis.

I then was reminded of the safety/ease I felt when a non-Aboriginal colleague would acknowledge Country and then effortlessly demonstrate their Cultural capability by being able to name the Country they grew up on. Reinforcing the significance of what the protocol is about, Country! I would often think, “this person is a real one, you know he wasn’t just pulled this together”.

Many people that I found professionally navigating an Acknowledgement of Country would start with trying to understand the Country where they need to deliver one. Though to me, if we want integrity in how we deliver this protocol then we must be able to first know at least the Aboriginal Place Name where we live or were raised.

Do you know the Aboriginal Place names of where you were born? Where you grew up? Where you now live and raise your family? If you can answer yes, you probably have a stronger than most connection to Country and place whether you are Aboriginal or not. What we are seeing though is an overwhelming majority that do not understand their connection to Country and Place.

For us, that connection or disconnection is the missing link to how to strength people’s confidence to deliver an authentic Acknowledgement of Country?

For the last few months Impact Policy has been researching how people respond to and approach an Acknowledgement of Country. In response to a profound lack of awareness, confidence, and capability that recent data is showing, we are realising how important increasing cultural capability is in this area and how transformative the process of crafting a personal and meaningful Acknowledgement of Country can be.

We were recently invited to host a staff development workshop for over 140 staff of the International Grammar School as part of their professional development day, on how to meaningfully deliver an Acknowledgement of Country.

Centered around a theme of connection, we invited our guests to consider their own relationship to Country, reflecting on how they relate to the land they are both from and on. We provided a chance for participants to respond in real time to their main hesitations around delivering an Acknowledgement, with results consistent with what we have been noticing across the board.

Main hesitations center around themes of:

One of the valuable learnings from delivering this workshop for IGS, was the validation of how critical this work is in empowering individuals, especially those who facilitate groups where Aboriginal people may be present, to initiate and maintain a culturally safe space through a meaningful and authentic Acknowledgement of Country.

We were humbled by the level of engagement and authentic response from the IGS community and are further inspired to continue this work with the development of our online training program “Start with Country” launching 2023.

The course is designed to lead participants on a guided journey to uncover and confidently deliver their own Acknowledgement of Country, based on their personal connection to Country and Place, which we all share.

We have outlined below some general information and guidelines that address some of the main concerns we are hearing around delivering an Acknowledgement and look forward sharing our course with you soon!

What is Country?

Since we are acknowledging “Country”, it’s important to have some understanding of what Country means. Country with a capital “C” is a living conceptual term used by Aboriginal peoples to describe the lands, waterways and seas to which they are connected. While it includes the geographic land, it is much more complex includes complex ideas about law, place, custom, language, spiritual belief, cultural practice, family and identity (CwC 2020).

Country also relates to the nation or cultural group and land that we belong to, yearn for, find healing from and will return to. However, Country means much more than land, it is our place of origin in cultural, spiritual and literal terms. People are part of Country, and identity is derived in a large way in relation to Country.

Why is Acknowledging Country important?

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have known a long history of exclusion from many historical landmarks. A history of dispossession and colonisation lies at the heart of the disparity between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians today.

Meaningfully recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in events, meetings and gatherings is a step towards improving cultural capability across the board and a more inclusive society.

The ability to confidently and authentically deliver an Acknowledgement of Country, recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners of land, shows respect for Country and Culture and ignites a spark of inspiration for others to take the step towards considering how they might best Acknowledge Country themselves.

How do you acknowledge Country?

An Acknowledgement of Country is an opportunity for anyone to show respect for Traditional Owners and the continuing connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to Country.

But what many people don’t realise, is that it is also an opportunity for all of us to pause and consider our personal connection to Country. It does not have to be reserved for formal gatherings or official proceedings.

De-mystifying Acknowledgement of Country can help people feel comfortable and confident in paying respect to the traditional owners and Country they are on and help in cultivating a genuine and authentic reflective practice that turns polite symbolism into meaningful connection.

There is no specific wording or process for an Acknowledgement of Country. Though there are important principles that must be met. It is advised if you are going to take the time to do one, then to take the time to develop your own personal one, this may not be what you deliver all thew time based on the audience or purpose but is an important step in understanding your own connection.

An example could sound like:

“My name is XX, I was born on Awabakal Country and now live on Gadigal Country with my young family. Today we come together on Bidgigal Country and I want to take a moment to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Country we are meeting on today. We recognise their continuing connection to the land and waters and thank them for protecting this coastline and its ecosystems. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal people present today.”

In summary, if you want to increase the Cultural Capability of delivering and Acknowledgement of Country then you first must understand the Aboriginal Place Names of where you were born, where you grew up, where you now live. Reflect on your memories of these places, your connection to them. Reflect on the significance of Country and Place to you. Understanding this will equip you to connect too and more meaningfully deliver an Acknowledgement of Country with the integrity of which the protocol was intended.

Follow us at Impact Policy and stay tuned for our upcoming online course of Acknowledgment of Country and reach out directly should you be interested in any tailored workshops like we delivered with International Grammar School.

164 views0 comments


bottom of page