Over the past decade, the corporate sector has become increasingly aware of its position in Australia’s journey towards reconciliation. Through the adoption of Indigenous employment schemes, the development of Indigenous Procurement Policies and introduction of Reconciliation Action Plans, funds and resources are being directed towards ensuring that promising Indigenous talent is employed and retained, that staff are engaged in cultural awareness activities and that senior leaders and executives are incorporating the engagement of Indigenous businesses into their strategic plans.

A common inclusion to a company’s commitment to reconciliation is the introduction of a Welcome to Country. A Welcome to Country is generally performed at the opening of events held either on or off-site and is undertaken by an elder who is a custodian of the traditional owners of the land on which the event is being held. The only person who can formally ‘welcome’ to Country is a descendant of the traditional owners.

What is a Welcome to Country?

Welcoming someone to Country is a tradition that pre-dates colonisation. The modern interpretation is based on a custom where travelling clans were welcomed onto Country by its owners, in addition to asking their ancestors to keep the visitors safe as they passed through the area.

This sentiment still applies and a Welcome to Country can be a short speech, an anecdote or other story pertaining to the land or community or even a performance that incorporates song, dance or other traditions local to the area.

How does a Welcome to Country differ from an Acknowledgement of Country?

The biggest difference between a Welcome to Country and an Acknowledgement of Country is that while a Welcome can only be performed by an elder from the land to which they are welcoming people to, an acknowledgement can be performed by anyone – regardless of their cultural heritage. An acknowledgement is also less of a welcoming and more so a means to pay homage to those who inhabited the land pre-European colonisation, as well as a way to look to the future of Indigenous affairs in Australia. Depending on the experience and knowledge of the speaker, an Acknowledgement may simply be that, or, in a corporate setting, it may be an opportunity to discuss what the company is doing in the reconciliation space.

Years ago it was refreshing to hear an Acknowledgement of Country being made during the opening speech at major events, but now it is an expectation at even smaller, internal meetings and, quite frankly, very poor form not to include even those most to-the-point Acknowledgement (although the best Acknowledgements are those that are genuine and from the heart, not just those read from a page merely to tick a box).

If your company is already observing this practice – good on you! If not, why not?

Our company want to acknowledge First Nation Australians in another way. Any ideas?

Where do we begin? There are so many ways you can acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on top of ensuring senior leaders and executives are acknowledging Country. Here are just a few that won’t make the CFO cranky or throw the communications strategy off-kilter:

  • Signage in reception: Does your company display signs when there’s a seminar held on your premises? Why not ask the events team to include an acknowledgement at the bottom of the page? This is a great way to show your guests you are serious about inclusion and sets the standard even before the event has begun.
  • Catering: Did you know that for every $1 spent with Indigenous-owned businesses there’s a social return of $4.41? It’s true! Supply Nation, Australia’s peak body for Indigenous-owned business, has done the research. They also certify businesses that are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander owned so you know who to start procuring from. Why not have your next forum or client function catered by an Indigenous business and acknowledge them in the programme or CEO’s speech?
  • Speakers gifts: Wine and flowers are great, but unless they’re really rare and specific to the recipient, they’re not all that special. Why not thank your MC, panellists or guest speaker with a unique gift from an Indigenous business? Indigiearth sells gift hampers that are chock full of gorgeous products anyone would love to receive. What’s more, the business is owned by a Ngemba Weilwan woman (Sharon Winsor) so you’ll be supporting a female business owner, too.
  • Artwork: If you have any blank walls in your office you can use the space to acknowledge First Nations people with a stunning piece of art. But don’t just buy something for the pretty colours! Do some research, get along to a major Indigenous art fair (such as the National Indigenous Art Fair held in Sydney each year) and build a connection with an artist whose story and works will resonate with your brand, clients and employees.

Aside from just acknowledging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at your next function, try one of the many covert ways that you can incorporate recognition of First Nations cultures into your business practices.

Do you currently implement the above into your events? We’d love to hear how it went. 

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