Acknowledgement of Country: Costs nothing but worth so much

It was disapointing to see the Victorian Premier and others dismiss the symbolism of acknowledgements of country as unimportant. I have been to New Zealand several times now and on every occasion I have been with a delegation of non-Indigenous Australians who say they are embarrassed at how New Zealand society can do so well at acknowledging and embracing their Indigenous people, while we really struggle to do the same back here.

The rationale for such dismissive thinking is that is pandering to minorities. I find this a bit strange when in reality it seems to me that most decent Australians are now very comfortable with the notion of acknowledging country as a ritual in formal meetings. It could be argued that dismissing such a ritual is in fact just pandering to an unenlightened minority.

Some will argue that we should be less bothered about such symbolism and more concerned about practical measures to engage Indigenous Australians. My question is what’s so difficult about having both? In fact I wonder if it is indeed possible to have one without the other. Imagine what this measure has the potential to do in terms of undermining any scope for a positive relationship between bureaucrats in Victoria who might be working hard to engage Koories in a practical way.

Acknolwedgement of country is a symbolic gesture that costs absolutely nothing: yet it can be worth so much.

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3 Responses

  1. Interesting post Chris. I sit at a lot of meetings these days when the acknowledgement is dutifully delivered. All is well. But I ask you Chris, and all of Australia, what does it ACTUALLY mean? What are the benefits? Is anything actually achieved? Let’s not go into the actual acknowledgement, the presenters often say ‘traditional owners’ (which is actually wrong I believe, as Aboriginal people never ‘owned’ the land) instead of ‘custodians’, but what is the ‘real’ purpose of these messages? It’s unfortunately lost on me…

    Furthermore, I wonder why we do not acknowledge other minorities or groups in these times. Why not acknowledge the British Empire? Buddhists for spreading peace instead of religious hate? Farmers?

    I personally believe the acknowledgement creates greater division between Aboriginal people and the rest of society; a form of continued racism and stereotyping. Isn’t such ‘division’ an example of further racism?

    Your thoughts and reply appreciated.

  2. Good question Andrew… I admire your honesty and courage to ask a question that most would keep burning inside their head in some kind of ‘polite’ way that prevents us from having and honourable dialogue and learning from each other.

    What does it actually mean? Another way to come at the same question is to ask what does it acually mean when we do not bother with an acknowledgement of country or traditional custodians? What does this signal in terms of the regard we have for Indigenous Australians?

    I find the discussion about ‘traditional owners’ versus ‘traditional custodians’ versus notions of ‘ownership’ a bit spurious. All I can do is reiterate my original point: It costs nothing to acknowledge traditional custodians of the land but it really is worth much more. I dont see this gesture as a form of ‘division’, but rather as a form of reaching out and embracing a group of Australians who have been so accustomed to being excluded.

    On your question of why not acknowledge other minorities… I think it is absolutely appropriate wherever possible to reach out to embrace, acknowledge and honour other groups at the margins. I wouldn’d describe the British Empire as ‘at the margins’ though. We honour this connection every time we look at an Australian flag. The Union Jack sits there with perhaps the most honourable place on arguably one of modern Australia’s most honourable artefacts.

    In terms of an overarching Australia though.. there is only one group that can be considered, ‘original custodians’. Thanks again for your honesty and courage to ask.

  3. An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a colleague who had been doing a little homework on this. And he in fact bought me lunch due to the fact that I discovered it for him… lol. So let me reword this…. Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending the time to discuss this issue here on your web site.

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