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It has been Western Sydney University practice that proper cultural protocols be observed before the commencement of any meetings, conferences or any events, especially high profile events.
These cultural protocols are a 'Welcome to Country' by the Traditional Owners and an Acknowledgement of the Traditional Owners of the country in which the event is being held as a sign of respect.
Traditional Owners of Country
In New South Wales (NSW) there is diverse Aboriginal language groups of different countries.
An Aboriginal language group and connection to Country forms part of Aboriginal peoples cultural identity including:
- Own language and / or dialect
- A Country, Clan Estate where the Aboriginal person is from eg Darug, Tharawal (also historically referred to as Dharawal), Gandangarra and Wiradjuri
- Have their own law and lore, customs, cultural practices and protocols
- Have their own beliefs, stories, keepers of stories, ceremonies, totems
- Have unique ways of keeping, preserving and practicing their knowledge systems.
What is a Welcome to Country in NSW?
A "Welcome to Country" is a cultural protocol where Aboriginal Traditional Owners welcome people to their Land/Country. This is a significant recognition and is made through a formal cultural process where protocols are followed according to each clan estate.
A Welcome to Country should always occur in the opening ceremony of the event in question as the first item. The Welcome to Country is conducted by an Elder or endorsed representative (or representatives) of the local Traditional Owners who welcome those in attendance to their Country/Land.
Cultural Protocols in relation to the performing of a Welcome to Country ceremony are wide and diverse and can vary according to nation and clan.
A Welcome to Country may consist of a single speech and can be accompanied by a performance. Performances can include a Traditional Welcoming Song, a Traditional Dance and other cultural exchanges.
It is important that the Aboriginal Elder representative, (representatives) of the local Traditional Owners are comfortable with the arrangements that should be mutually negotiated. It is important to consider that the performing of a "Welcome to Country" ceremony is a right of the local Aboriginal Traditional owners and not a privilege.
Steps should be taken to ensure that the appropriate Aboriginal representative of the local Traditional Owners is invited to undertake the Welcome to Country ceremony.
What is an Acknowledgement of Country?
"Acknowledgement of Country" is a way that the wider community can demonstrate respect for Aboriginal protocol and can be given by a party that is participating in an occasion of any kind.
Acknowledgement of Country is a respectful means of Acknowledging that the event, meeting, function etc. is taking place on the Country of the Traditional Owners.
However, this should not replace a Welcome to Country, where an Elder or endorsed representative (or representatives) of the local traditional owners are available.
At the beginning of a meeting or function, a Chair or Speaker begins by acknowledging that the meeting is taking place in the country of the traditional owners.
Example of an Acknowledgement of Country
At the beginning of a meeting, the Chair, Convenor or MC may "Acknowledge Traditional Owners" by stating: Western Sydney University acknowledge that today's meeting is being held on the country of the Darug People of the Darug Nation and acknowledge their ancestors who have been Traditional Owners of their country for thousands of years. Western Sydney University also wishes to acknowledge and pay our respect to the Darug People's Elders past and present.