An Australian Tradition: Welcome to Country

Hello dearest fellow travelers! This week I saw a cool blog post that ties into my travels. Check out this post at Feministe, which explains the Australian Aboriginal tradition of the “welcome to country.” Here’s an excerpt from that post, explaining the concept:

The Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country are protocols performed in Australia to (allegedly) indicate respect for Aboriginal history and culture, as well as to indicate respect for Aboriginal people who may be attending the event. A Welcome can be performed by a local Aboriginal elder, and represents the traditional owners of a place giving their blessing to an event and welcoming the guests onto their lands. A Welcome is one of the many services that local Aboriginal Lands Councils offer for a small fee, although Welcomes do not have to be performed by Lands Councils.

text for welcome to country in Australia

An example of a "Welcome to Country"

What a wonderful way to acknowledge the complex history of a conquered and colonized country. The tradition goes way back, when an Aboriginal group traveling to another group’s land would be formally welcomed by that group before any other business was attended to. In the last century, it also became a way for non-Indigenous people to show their respect when starting an event or ceremony.

As Hexy explains in the post and Australians write in the comments, sometimes the Welcome or Acknowledgment is done as a rote part of a ceremony, with no sincerity, which obviously misses the point of doing it. But the general idea of saying these words is still good, taking time out to specifically acknowledge and appreciate people who have endured horrifying attacks on their lives and culture. Here in the United States, if this were something we did, it would also be an important way to emphasize that it’s not like Native Americans disappeared, after white people killed them all in a tragic, romanticized West (which is a disturbingly popular view), since the Welcome explicitly welcomes Indigenous folks who may be present.

Of course Australia and the United States do not have the same history, and the indigenous peoples of both lands are very different, but there is a similarity in the way white colonizers treated them brutally, attempted to eradicate them, and now consider them an embarrassing aberration in the national history of white people’s dominance. Making even cursory attempts to acknowledge that bloody history is more than we do here, and it’s something I think would make us a better country. I am not aware of a Native American tradition of such a Welcome or Acknowledgment, and it’s not like you can just slot in one cultural tradition for another, so I don’t see this happening in the States any time soon.

But I’ll be sure to keep a sharp eye out when I’m in Australia to see which communities perform the Welcome/Acknowledgment at their events and ceremonies. I marvel at the wide world of the Internet–here’s a custom that didn’t show up in my ACAM research but is so fascinating!

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