Writing an Acknowledgement of Country

This is a minor re-write of a post I originally put on my work blog.

I live in Australia.

Last year I attended a work meeting in which Indigenous student support staff talked about how they went about their jobs.

As part of talking about how to create culturally safe learning spaces, they provided an outline of an activity in which they encouraged non-Aboriginal teachers/lecturers to write their own Acknowledgement of Country.

Only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can do a Welcome to Country, but non-Aboriginal people, conducting business on Aboriginal land, can do an Acknowledgment of Country which as it sounds, is a specific acknowledgement of the traditional custodians of the land on which they are meeting. I have since learned that an Acknowledgement of Country can be considered a response to a Welcome to Country. It is like a call and response. I’m invited to be a guest on land and my Acknowledgement of Country is my response to that invitation.

In its simplest form, an acknowledgement of Country contains the recognition of the nation group on whose land you are on (in my case, Kaurna land), a payment of respect to elders past and present, and an acknowledgement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people present at the time.

However, it is possible to personalise your acknowledgement by bringing in additional context and content. This might mean connecting it to the purpose of your meeting that day, your growing understanding of Indigenous culture/language, and current events such as support for the Uluru Statement from the Heart, recognising unceded sovereignty and highlighting Black Lives Matter movements. In my context, as a psychologist, it might include a recognition of harms that my profession has done in the past and a commitment to changing that. You may also wish to express thanks, gratitude, appreciation, sense of mutual obligation and other similar concepts, reflecting your feelings about what it means to you to be invited as a guest.

After that meeting I went away to write my Acknowledgement of Country. It is a written piece that I continue to work on. I continually update it as I gain a better understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture and can better articulate my thoughts and feelings. Putting it in writing makes it possible to refer to in contexts other than meetings/presentations and enables things like links to related content.

Acknowledgement of Country – Dr Gareth Furber 

I’d like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners and Custodians, both past and present, of the land on which I get to work, live and play, Kaurna land, and recognise their continued relationship and responsibility to these Lands and waters. I pay my respects to Elders, past and present and to any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people reading this.  

Personally, I want to take a moment to express my gratitude for the fact that I get to live, work and play on Kaurna land. 

I’ve regrettably taken that for granted for many years and am changing that. 

I’ve been present at many events or ceremonies in which I (and the other non-Aboriginal people present) have been Welcomed to Country. Invited to be on this land by elders – past and present. 

It has taken some maturity and reflection to even begin to grasp how powerful that gesture is. Given everything that Aboriginal people have had to endure, their capacity to continue to welcome people to their Country (which is much more than just land) speaks to the depth of their spiritual connection with land, their ongoing appreciation of the interconnectedness of everything, their deep wish to not further propagate traumas they’ve experienced, and hope for real reconciliation.    

So, I hope that I can be a better guest and one aspect of being a better guest is caring for land.

As a gardener, I’ve long been aware of the reciprocal relationship we can have with the natural world. If I care for and nurture my garden, it rewards me healthy vital plants that provide pleasure and sometimes food. But the interconnection goes much deeper than that. Viewed over an extended timescale, it is possible to realise that separating oneself from the land, water, animals, sky and stars is an error. There isn’t a ‘you’ (quite as you think there is) and then all these things. You are all those things and they are you. And not just now, but throughout time (past, present and future). You are intricately intertwined with the universe and its contents.   

You can think of that in whatever way you want, a spiritual/metaphysical connection, a realisation of everything being made of the same building blocks and emerging from the same creative event, or simply the observation of just how interconnected things are in everyday life. 

But once you do, you realise the responsibilities you have to yourself and your loved ones and the community in which you live, also extends to the earth on which you live and all its inhabitants. When you are welcomed to Country you are being invited to accept these responsibilities: to that Country, but also the original custodians of that Country: in the region I live, the Kaurna people. You are being invited into someone’s home, which isn’t just a physical space. It is their family, kin, culture, land, ancestors and spirit.  

That can be an overwhelming sense of responsibility at times but reflects an invitation for a deep sense of belonging. 

And so, my acknowledgement of Country is an acceptance of that responsibility and an expression of gratitude for even being invited, which I wasn’t owed, but which has been extended graciously to me by the original custodians of this land. 

I will cultivate that responsibility, one piece at a time. And one of those pieces for me is acknowledging it here in writing and committing to update this acknowledgement as I address my regrettable ignorance of Aboriginal culture.

I encourage you to consider and seek out what accepting that responsibility would be for you. 

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