‘Welcome to Country’ in the ACT


Welcome to and Acknowledgement of Country


1.What is a Welcome to Country?

Protocols for welcoming visitors to Country have been a part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures for thousands of years. Despite the absence of fences or visible borders, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups had clear boundaries separating their Country from that of other groups. Crossing into another group’s Country required a request for permission to enter. When permission was granted the hosting group would welcome the visitors, offering them safe passage and protection of their spiritual being during the journey. While visitors were provided with a safe passage, they also had to respect the protocols and rules of the land owner group while on their Country.

Today, obviously much has changed, and these protocols have been adapted to contemporary circumstances. However, the essential elements of welcoming visitors and offering safe passage remain in place. A Welcome to Country occurs at the beginning of a formal event and can take many forms including singing, dancing, smoking ceremonies or a speech in traditional language or English. A Welcome to Country is delivered by Traditional Owners, or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have been given permission from Traditional Owners, to welcome visitors to their Country.

2. What is an Acknowledgment of 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. It can be given by both non-Indigenous people and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

There are no set protocols or wording for an Acknowledgement of Country, though often a statement may take the following forms.

General: 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 and present.

Specific: I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today, the (people) of the (nation) and pay my respects to Elders past and present.

Similar to a Welcome to Country, an Acknowledgement of Country is generally offered at the beginning of a meeting, speech or formal occasion.

3. Why are Welcomes to Country and Acknowledgements of Country important?

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have experienced a long history of exclusion from Australian history books, the Australian flag, the Australian anthem and for many years, Australian democracy. This history of dispossession and colonisation lies at the heart of the disparity between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians today. Including recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in events, meetings and national symbols is one part of ending the exclusion that has been so damaging. Incorporating welcoming and acknowledgement protocols into official meetings and events recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of land. It promotes an ongoing connection to place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and shows respect for Traditional Owners.

In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, the meaning of Country is more than just ownership or connection to land, as Professor Mick Dodson explains:

“When we talk about traditional ‘Country’…we mean something beyond the dictionary definition of the word. For Aboriginal Australians…we might mean homeland, or tribal or clan area and we might mean more than just a place on the map. For us, Country is a word for all the values, places, resources, stories and cultural obligations associated with that area and its features. It describes the entirety of our ancestral domains. While they may all no longer necessarily be the title-holders to land, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are still connected to the Country of their ancestors and most consider themselves the custodians or caretakers of their land.”

4. The Ngunnawal people, the traditional custodians of the ACT and surrounding region

Canberra is Ngunnawal country. The Ngunnawal people are the traditional custodians of the ACT and surrounding region.

The neighbouring people are the Gundungurra to the north, the Ngarigo to the south, the Yuin on the coast, and the Wiradjuri inland. 

5. Welcome to Country Protocols

Businesses in the ACT may wish to adopt the policy that all meetings, conferences, commemorations and events include an acknowledgement of the traditional custodians. Further, depending on the availability of an Aboriginal community elder, and the significance of the event, a formal Welcome to Country could be offered.

By incorporating Aboriginal cultural practices/ceremonies into our everyday business we are able to:

  • recognise and pay respect to Aboriginal peoples, cultures and heritage;
  • communicate Aboriginal cultural practices to the broader community to promote respect and understanding;
  • demonstrate that Aboriginal cultures are living through maintenance and practice of ceremonies and protocols; and
  • demonstrate recognition of Aboriginal people’s unique position which can assist in building relationships and partnerships.

Arranging a formal Welcome to Country in the ACT

To arrange a Welcome to Country for your event you could speak to the following Ngunnawal Elders to seek their assistance. A  list of Ngunnawal Elders can be found at: http://www.communityservices.act.gov.au/atsia/welcome_to_country

This directorate’s involvement in Welcome to Country requests is only to provide you with contact details for the Ngunnawal Elders and /or alternates family representation that have been endorsed through the United Ngunnawal Elders Council. You will need to liaise directly with them for all your arrangements.

If you cannot arrange for a Ngunnawal Elder to attend your event, or if your event is considered too small to warrant a formal Welcome to Country, you can make the following specific acknowledgement in the ACT:

‘I/We would like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal people who are the traditional custodians of this land on which we are meeting and pay respect to the Elders of the Ngunnawal Nation both past and present. I/We extend this respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in attendance today.’

Fee for Service in providing Cultural Services

In providing cultural services such as Welcome to Country, artistic performances and ceremonies Aboriginal people are using their intellectual property. As such providers of these services should be appropriately remunerated.

Appropriate remuneration and/or assistance should be negotiated between the cultural service provider and the agency hosting the event, considering:

  • travel to and from the event; and
  • public profile of the event.

As a general indicator, $350 for a Welcome to Country is appropriate.

6. Cultural Awareness Training

Further information will be posted when available.