Welcome to Country: Form Over Substance

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Commentary

“First, I would similar to admit the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of the nation. I wage my respect to Elders, past, present, and emerging, and admit the accepted custodians of the onshore connected which this lawsuit takes place.”

The ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ and ‘Welcome to Country’ rituals person go embedded into the cloth of Australian life. Nowadays, each nationalist enactment organised by immoderate level of government—federal, state, oregon local—starts with the Welcome.

The Welcome is besides an ever-present sacramental process that takes spot astatine the opening of meetings, conferences, and seminars successful universities. It whitethorn besides beryllium recited astatine open-air events. For example, a Land for Wildlife lawsuit volition predictably statesman with a Welcome to Country. Even backstage companies person present adopted the practice.

Ernie Dingo and his cobber, Richard Walley, created the Welcome to Country successful the 1970s erstwhile they welcomed a troupe of Pacific dancers to Australia. At the time, they made it wide that it should stay voluntary, not a mandatory ritual. But since then, the Welcome has go an inevitable, mandatory, portion of immoderate introductory speech, often repeated by astir speakers astatine an event.

There are assorted versions. Typically, it requires attendees astatine a gathering to respect the indigenous colonisation and to admit their custodianship of Australia’s territory.

Experience has shown that the artificial and ritualised connection of the Welcome often sits uncomfortably with the attendees of an event.

Epoch Times Photo An Aboriginal emblem waves successful beforehand of the elephantine tv surface arsenic thousands stitchery successful Melbourne’s Federation Square, Australia, connected Feb. 13, 2008 to perceive to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered a historical apology successful parliament to the Aboriginal radical for injustices committed implicit 2 centuries of achromatic settlement. (William West/AFP via Getty Images)

Acknowledging indigenous peoples is, of course, not constricted to Australia. For example, successful Canada, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) recommends that its members unfastened meetings and conferences with an appropriately worded acknowledgement. In its Guide, CAUT asserts that:

“Acknowledging territory shows designation of and respect for Aboriginal Peoples. It is designation of their beingness some successful the past and the present. Recognition and respect are indispensable elements of establishing healthy, reciprocal relations. These relationships are cardinal to reconciliation, a process to which CAUT is committed.”

CAUT further states that the acknowledgement is portion of “the larger discourse of genuine and ongoing enactment to forge existent understanding, and to situation the legacies of colonialism.”

It besides emphasises that it is not “a pro forma statement” but, instead, it “must beryllium understood arsenic a captious portion of the business.”

To demystify the Welcome, it is indispensable to bespeak connected its quality and consequences.

Specifically, 1 mightiness inquire the question whether it efficaciously contributes to “respect” for indigenous cultures and improves the worldly plight of Aboriginals.

The Welcome to Country, successful focusing connected the request to respect indigenous cultures, is surely capable, astatine slightest potentially, of contributing to the improvement of harmonious relationships betwixt divers groups successful society.

In this context, Reconciliation Australia notes connected its website that its incorporation “shows respect by upholding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander taste protocols.”

Epoch Times Photo The Aboriginal emblem is seen projected connected the sails of the Sydney Opera House successful Sydney, Australia, connected Jan. 26, 2020. (Don Arnold/Getty Images)

In this context, Mark Powell argues successful an nonfiction that the Welcome is “an enactment of taste appropriation, arsenic the Welcome’s white-bread cliches person go a droning obligatory overture earlier everything from shot matches to the opening of parliaments.”

He besides points retired that “Both ‘Welcome to Country’ and ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ practices not lone neglect to honour Aboriginal culture, specified arsenic it was, but are disingenuous representations arsenic to what indigenous radical historically did.”

Although the Welcome’s accent connected “respect” is simply a timely reminder of the request to revere Australia’s Aboriginal taste heritage, the connection utilized successful the connection should emphasise that “respect” is simply a reciprocal expectation. Only past would it meaningfully lend to harmony and reconciliation betwixt indigenous and non-indigenous populations.

It is, however, precisely the one-sidedness of the acknowledgement that vitiates against the promotion of respect. Several reasons enactment this view.

First, the Australian mentation implies that non-indigenous Australians are simply visitors connected Aboriginal lands, interlopers who are intent connected robbing the alleged accepted owners of their land.

The Reconciliation website tells its users that “Taking the clip to Acknowledge Country, oregon including a Welcome to Country astatine an event, reminds america that each time we live, work, and imagination connected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lands.”

Surely, taxable to the validity of this implication, the Welcome induces non-indigenous Australians into a imperishable authorities of guilt, which fails to beforehand reconciliation, but alternatively militates against its achievement.

Epoch Times Photo Dancers execute astatine The Yabun Festival, an yearly solemnisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures astatine Camperdown successful Sydney, Australia, connected Jan. 26, 2020. (Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

Second, the Welcome by itself does thing to amended the worldly conditions of Australia’s indigenous population.

It does not connection factual assistance which would alteration Aboriginals to go self-sufficient and trim the request for governmental assistance and charity.

It is an artificial motherhood statement, which promotes signifier implicit substance. Indeed, the Welcome is but a mediocre substitute for the meaningful assistance, which governmental and backstage sectors of the Australian system would different beryllium capable to connection to Australia’s indigenous population.

Although the Welcome, arsenic presently constituted is simply an artificial statement, it whitethorn nevertheless make demands.

For example, it could springiness an impetus to demands that Australia concludes a pact with its indigenous population, oregon that indigenous radical beryllium represented successful parliament, either successful a mandatory oregon advisory capacity—known arsenic The Voice—or by the preservation of parliamentary seats.

The Welcome frankincense supports demands for a broad pact with Australia. A connection to that effect has already been placed earlier the Queensland parliament (pdf).

Regardless arsenic presently fashioned, it is nary wonderment that sections of the Australian electorate respect the Welcome to Country arsenic a charade, that sends a confusing connection adjacent to those Australians trained successful the rigorous treatment of ethical and ineligible issues.

Views expressed successful this nonfiction are the opinions of the writer and bash not needfully bespeak the views of The Epoch Times.

Gabriël Moens

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Professor Gabriël A. Moens AM is an emeritus prof of instrumentality astatine The University of Queensland, and served arsenic pro vice-chancellor, dean, and prof of instrumentality astatine Murdoch University. He has published a caller astir the origins of the COVID-19 disease, “A Twisted Choice,” and precocious published a abbreviated story, “The Greedy Prospector,” successful an Anthology of abbreviated stories, “The Outback” (Boolarong Press, 2021).