Transcript of Confidence with Acknowledgement and Welcome video

Transcript

Melissa Hamblin Biggs

Okay. I'd like to start by acknowledging that I'm speaking to you from Darug & Gundungurra land in the beautiful Blue Mountains of New South Wales. And I'd also like to acknowledge the Custodians of all the lands from which everyone who is joining this webinar and acknowledge continuing connections to those lands and waterways. I pay my respect to Aboriginal Elders past and present and I extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are joining this event today, including my colleagues in the RAP team.

So to get started, we thought it might be nice to introduce ourselves a little bit. So my name is Melissa Hamblin Biggs and I've been with the NSW Department of Education for six years now.

And I'm really grateful to live the Blue Mountains area with my partner and my little boy. And I'm really keen for him to grow up knowing that and that the land we play on, and where we have our veggie patch, and where we walk every day has always been Aboriginal land and always will be.

I'm hoping that my colleagues and the RAP team have been able to join. The presentation will be run by myself and Luke Allan and Tamara Saunders and Darren Bell. Luke are you there?

Luke Allan

Hi Melissa. Yeah, I am [crosstalk 00:01:36]. My name is Luke Alan, I'm joining you guys from Tamworth. I work with Training Services, New South Wales, and just recently come on board with these guys and also just joined the RAP working group. Welcome and I hope we can present you with some information that can be useful for you guys to go back and really integrate it into the way that you organize Welcome to Country or undertake Acknowledgement of Country yourselves.

Melissa Hamblin Biggs

And Tamara, are you there?

Tamara Saunders

I'm Tamara Saunders I'm a Dunghutti woman. I'm currently in Sydney, more Western Sydney area and very excited for this presentation today.

Melissa Hamblin Biggs

Thanks. and I think Darren has been a bit delayed and well… oh he's popped up. Are you there Darren?

Darren Bell

Hi everyone. My name is Darren Bell. I'm a Ngunnawal and Yuin man. I've been working for the Department of Education for 25 years now in both Aboriginal Education and Employment. I lead the Aboriginal Programs HR team, which used to be the Aboriginal Employment team for the department. And I just want to say, "Hello and I hope you get something out of this today." Coming to you from Darug Country.

Melissa Hamblin Biggs

Thanks, Darren. And we also just wanted to acknowledge the artist who created our beautiful artwork for our Reconciliation Action Plan on which you'll probably see in the corner of this presentation. Suzanna's a student at Boggabilla Central School. Boggabilla is in the far Northeast of NSW on Kamilaroi Country and the artwork speaks to the themes of community, school, friendship and family. So the aim of today's webinar, is to give you a little bit of confidence with the basics of what an Acknowledgment of Country is, what a Welcome to Country is, and to give you a bit of a pep talk so you can get out there and include the appropriate protocols in your meetings and events.

So what we're going to do is, we'll start by sharing some information from our team, then we'll have an opportunity for everybody to practice giving an Acknowledgement of Country. We'll have a quick chat about what you can do next and then there'll be an opportunity for some questions. Before we get into, I guess the meat of the presentation, a bit of a disclaimer:we are not professional facilitators, we're certainly not expert trainers in Acknowledgements but we just wanted to share what we know and what we've know and what we've learned with our colleagues in the department and we're really happy to open that up to other people who are keen to learn. So I'm just going to start with a quick poll, if I can put that one up, about where you're calling from today. I know we've got, obviously a lot of people from our department here in New South Wales.

I can see lots of friends from Victoria, welcome, a few from Queensland, well, okay, riight across the Country. Welcome to you all. So obviously we're in New South Wales so there might be some regional differences depending on, if you're dialing in from another area. Probably one of the really big obvious ones is that In New South Wales, the traditional custodians are Aboriginal peoples. And so we talk a lot in this presentation about 'Aboriginal' rather than 'Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders'. But of course we do recognize both Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first nation's peoples of Australia.

I'm just going to launch another quick poll there about... I'll just share those results so you can all see where all your friends are from and I'll just pop up the next little poll... I can't press my buttons, what am I doing? Oh, there we go. Who knows what Country that you're on today? So I'm on Darug and Gundungurra Country. Do you know where you're calling from today? Oh cool so heaps of people do, that's really nice to see and other people haven't found out yet. Getting [inaudible 00:06:57]. I'll just share that so you can see. Yeah. So lots of people do know that's really nice.

I'm just going to share with you this. This is a famous map, it's called the Tindale Map. And there's obviously some new ones, this one was, I think, created in the '30s. And they attempt to describe the cultural language and trade boundaries and relationships between groups. I think there are really impactful visualization of the fact that wherever you put your feet in Australia, they are on Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander land. And the thing about an Acknowledgement of Country or a Welcome to Country is that it's an opportunity to actually really recognize that fact like that's where your feet are, that's where you are.

And to acknowledge the traditional custodianship of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. And it's really meaningful if you can go out and find out what Country that you work on, that you live on, and we'll talk a little bit later about how you can actually do that. So Luke, I'd like to invite you to talk a little bit about why giving an Acknowledgement of Country or arranging a Welcome to Country is so important.

Luke Allan

Thanks, Melissa. I'll start with acknowledging Country myself. Land is central to the identity of Aboriginal people and I join you from Kamilaroi Country, which is in the Northwest new South Wales from around sort of Southwest Queensland down to the Hunter Valley, the top of the Hunter Valley and is bordered by the Pilliga and the Warrumbungle's in the west, and also the Great Dividing Range in the East. I pay my respects to my ancestors and the Elders of all nations on which we meet today and acknowledge the sophistication of the systems that allowed them to care for this land, for millennia. I like to highlight the strength in connection to Country that exists today despite the effects of colonization. The resilience of Aboriginal people have allowed us to share in the richness of culture and language and it's also supported revival efforts where this has been disrupted and that's important moving into the future that we continue to acknowledge that strength and that resilience. And the department also recognize the Traditional Custodians of the lands and waterways where we live and work. It's an opportunity to celebrate First Peoples' unique cultural and spiritual relationship to Country, and acknowledge the significance of Aboriginal cultures in Australia. The caring of the land and the management of natural resources have allowed us to share..or be a part of such a rich and diverse nation and also a very fertile land and resourceful nation.

One of the aims of the department is to promote greater understanding and respect for Aboriginal people and cultures in our workplaces, in our schools, and also throughout the wider community. Ceremonies and protocols are a fundamental part of Aboriginal cultures and arranging a Welcome to Country or offering an Acknowledgement of Country is one way that you guys can show respect for Aboriginal people as the First Nations people.

While observing and participating in these protocols and these practices, we're also more broadly promoting the understanding of, and respect for Aboriginal cultural practices. So we encourage all staff across the department to undertake or incorporate Welcome to Country or Acknowledgement to Country at significant meetings, events and other gatherings that we have. Thanks, Melissa.

Melissa Hamblin Biggs

Thanks, Luke. So just reflecting for a moment on our organization, obviously we're the New South Wales Department of Education and I find that people are generally in education for really good reasons. Like we all want to be part of getting kids the education that they need to thrive and so wherever we work in education, if we're working directly with students in schools or supporting that work in corporate, by showing that we respect cultural practices and by acting in a way that celebrates and recognizes the significance of Aboriginal cultures in Australia, we're all doing a bit to impact how kids, especially Aboriginal kids, experience their education. We also talk a lot in our department about being a great place to work and about our values of integrity, equity, excellence, accountability, trust, and service.

And this really fits into all of that so it helps us to be a more culturally safe place to work, and that helps us to be more diverse and genuinely inclusive and to do a better job for our students. It's a virtuous cycle that starts with each of us taking just a few pretty easy steps. Tamara, you're going to talk a little bit about Welcomes and Acknowledgements. What's the difference?

Tamara Saunders

What's the difference between a Welcome to Country and an Acknowledgement of Country? There's a significant of a difference between a Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country. So basically a Welcome to Country is a ceremony where the Traditional Custodians formally welcome people onto their land, usually done by a recognized Elder or someone with the appropriate level of authority from a cultural perspective. Although my family is from Dunghutti, but I've been brought up in Darug. Personally, I will not perform a Welcome to Country on my Country as I'm not considered an Elder or posses the appropriate cultural authority.

Welcome to Country follows 1,000 years of protocols around welcoming people to Country and offering a safe passage and protection to visitors. It's a significant recognition and is made formally. Whereas an Acknowledgement of Country is a statement of recognition of the Traditional Custodians of the land. It can be performed by any person as a way to share respect for Aboriginal peoples culture and heritage and the ongoing relationship that Traditional Custodians have with the land.

Basically with the diversity, there's a few dot points that I have. So diversity, traditional Aboriginal and the Torres Strait Islander Australia was extremely diverse. Approximately 250 indigenous Australian languages, including 800 dialects of those languages. This also, different nations had clear boundaries separating their Country from that of others. And traditional context basically, a Welcome Acknowledgement of Country, uses a form of permission and guardianship around access to the land of other groups. And it was usually encapsulated in ceremony. So these ceremonies were used to communicate the protocols and rules of the land. Obviously these are different for different nations as they place-based, specific to that Country.

And once these businesses were completed, visitors were provided with a safe passage, both physically and spiritually, whilst they were on Country. And a bit about contemporary context is that these processes acknowledged Traditional Custodians of the land. Shows respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as Australia's first peoples and the practices such as Welcome to Country enable the wider community to share in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, and is a way to improve understanding and foster better community relationships.

Melissa Hamblin Biggs

Thank you Tamara for sharing that. People quite often ask about why it's so important. I think you both, Luke and Tamara, touched on that a little bit. I wonder if you had a little more to share?

Luke Allan

As I said before, it's important that we continue to acknowledge it moving into the future and that we show future generations that acceptance of everyone within our community. In the past there hasn't been that broad acceptance and Aboriginal people were obviously segregated to missions and pushed off of their traditional lands and the effects of colonization have really impacted upon the passing on of their traditional cultural knowledge and the more we can work to revive that and show a broader understanding and an acceptance within the community of that....It just provides a great foundation for kids to learn that and sharing it and for us to move forward as a nation, acknowledging the existence of Aboriginal cultures and the importance of them in our identity, not just for Aboriginal people, but as a nation.

Melissa Hamblin Biggs

Thanks, Luke. Tamara's talked a bit about the difference between a Welcome and an Acknowledgment and Darren, you're going to speak a bit about, "How do I organize a Welcome to Country? When's it appropriate and how do I do it?"

Darren Bell

Thanks, Melissa. We can go over the questions about this, when and why and how. The department does have what we call a RAP hub where it has a range of information about why we should hold or conduct a Welcome or Acknowledgement. How and what sort of events and things like that that might be appropriate to conduct an Acknowledgement or a Welcome. But the Traditional Custodians of the land are, usually as Tamara spoke about before, a senior representative of the local community, someone Elder or delegate someone that the local Elders have designated that, yes, they can perform a Welcome on their behalf. They're the type of people that would conduct a Welcome to Country. As Tamara has spoken of before as well, I wouldn't dare attempt to perform a Welcome to Country. My mum is from Ngunnawal, which is down near Canberra but I've never lived on Country.

I was born and raised in Sydney so I wouldn't contemplate, even thinking of conducting a Welcome to Country on Ngunnawal land and I've lived on Darug land most of my life in Sydney. And again, I wouldn't be the one to conduct a Welcome to Country. You need to ensure that the appropriate steps are taken to find out who the Aboriginal representative might be for your area and who can undertake that ceremony and be sure to adhere to it respectfully to etiquette in local customs when you engage with the local Aboriginal community. The processes of negotiation with the local communities, is part of the reconciliation process we believe and it's important that the Aboriginal representative is involved and is comfortable with the arrangements. Invite them to participate in the process from the very beginning and talk together to decide the format of the ceremony, because you need to inform someone who's conducting a Welcome to Country, what the ceremony is about.

It could be the launch of a new program or product. It could be celebration of NAIDOC week, NAIDOC Day or Reconciliation Week. It could be a commemorative service like Sorry Day. Inform them, let them know exactly what the ceremony or the meeting is about so they might be able to tailor their Welcome to suit whatever you're meeting about or launching. That helps the local Elder or representative conduct a more appropriate sort of, I suppose, Welcome to Country that does suit what's happening. You must understand as well that people who do conduct Welcome in Country must be recognized, they should be recognized and in a lot of cases remunerated. There might be a fee to conduct a Welcome to Country, which is fair enough because you're asking somebody to take time out of their day to conduct a Welcome to Country and remuneration is a fair go.

It can be a complex issue but observing local Aboriginal protocols and things like that would help smooth the process over and may include allowing time for customary decision-making and discussion amongst the local community and the Traditional Custodians. As was raised before, and someone's mentioned it in chat, that some parts, I know New South Wales, and I'm sure other parts of the Country, there are disputes about whose land you're actually on because as Luke spoke about before dispossession and things like that that have impacted the histories and the way Aboriginal people and the global community understand where the Country is because of dispossession and things like that.

Just be aware that they could be disputes and if there is, when you, if you do give Acknowledge of Country, I would generally say, if this land is disputed, I don't want to upset people. I would acknowledge the 'Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet' or whatever. I wouldn't say...well if I did know, like I know I'm on Darug land and I would say 'I'd like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of Darug land' and so on. But so just be mindful of that, that yes, sometimes areas are disputed and it can be a touchy subject. So ways to find or engage with local Aboriginal communities in New South Wales: we have what's called the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, or the AECG - I think Victoria has an equivalent called VAEAI - and they're the peak advisory body to our department for Aboriginal education and training.

So they're speaking on behalf of the community. You engage with their organization, groups like that. Of course, Local Aboriginal Land Councils do provide that service. Most of them do provide that service and they would engage with their local communities and also there's even your local council area. So our building is under the Parramatta local council area. If we can't get in contact with the land council or the AECG, we might engage with Parramatta council but there's also other registered Aboriginal organizations. There's a website listing all of those organizations.

You have the ability to engage with them as well. So there's quite a good range of organizations that you can contact to organize a Welcome to Country when you might need it. Sorry, just a question in the chat there about VAEAI. I'm not 100% sure of what the Victorian version of the AECG is called. I think it's Victorian Aboriginal and Islander Education Association, I think. So that's the equivalent to the AECG, but I'm not 100% sure what they're called. Sorry. Thanks Melissa.

Melissa Hamblin Biggs

I'm just going put up another super quick poll. Who has done an Acknowledgement of Country before? Who's given an acknowledgement? So I'm seeing there's a bit of a spread. People who've never given one, people who've done it a few times, and those who do it all the time. I'll just share those quickly, so you can see. So what I've got here is a suggested wording for an Acknowledgement of Country. There's no set wording. The point of it is that it's a moment to acknowledge Traditional Custodians. So as Darren said, if you don't know who the Traditional Custodians are or where it might be a bit complicated, just saying 'Traditional Custodians' is appropriate. And if you're saying Traditional Custodians, because you don't know, that's a really good invitation for you to go out and find out so that you do know next time.

And Darren talked to you in the context of a Welcome to Country and an Acknowledgement, if you don't know who they are, the AECG, your local land council and local government are really great places to find out.

So as a non-Aboriginal person I can find that it does feel a bit odd or formal giving an acknowledgement. It's a kind of protocol that isn't part of lots of other cultures. I think the thing though is to remember that it is an important part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. And putting yourself out there and participating respectfully in culture, that's a really important part of reconciliation. And so our team, we are really encouraging people in the department and I guess everyone who's joining us from elsewhere, get out there and make it a normal part of your meeting and event practice. When you've got a big meeting, make sure there's an acknowledgement, or if it's a big event, it might be appropriate to organize a Welcome to Country. And I think for acknowledgements, one thing to flag is that you don't need to be Chair of the meeting to give the acknowledgement. And in fact it can be a really nice idea to share it around, because then more people can participate in this practice. We're going to share a few thoughts about what happens if you get an acknowledgement a bit wrong? What does it mean?

Darren Bell

When I filled out that poll, Melissa, I said, "Yes, I've done it multiple times. And on multiple occasions, I have felt that I've stuffed up." Which is fine. Thankfully we're doing this via zoom, because I don't know how I'd go knowing that I'm talking and seeing 200 people. So that's sort of thing that could really set you off and send you on a tangent thought, or words get stuck in my throat. And literally, I choke a little bit. But it's okay not to get it right the first time or stuff up or something like that. The fact of the matter is you are doing it and you are trying. And the big issue is, if you don't know who the custodians are, then you just mention the Custodians, the Traditional Custodians.

But obviously all of us are going to encourage you to find out what Country you're standing on, to acknowledge the traditional custodians of that land. But that'd be afraid to try. Acknowledgements of Country as we studied, can be done by anyone, from a five-year-old up to a 90-year old and male or female, Aboriginal, non-Aboriginal. So long as you go and try, that's what we ask really. Is there anything else you want me to talk about on that Melissa?

Melissa Hamblin Biggs

No, that was it. I can see Luke's nodding along there.

Darren Bell

Can I just say that we've got quite a few questions through the chat. Do we want to come to them at the end Melissa? And-

Melissa Hamblin Biggs

Yeah, I think if we just park some of those until the end... I know we're already actually running over time, but I'm hoping people can just stay on the line with us. And we'll do some of those questions towards the end. So we'll just move along. We wanted to give everybody a chance to actually have a go at doing an Acknowledgement. I'm going to break everyone into quite small groups. This is a chance to just say, "Hi." Introduce yourself and then give an Acknowledgement. So doing this, you probably want to actually Acknowledge the Traditional Custodians as part of your acknowledgement, pay respect to Elders, and pay respect to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people who might be joining your meeting. If you're ever going to make a complete mess of an Acknowledgment, this is probably the time to do it, because we're all here to learn. This is a practice environment.

I know lots of people might be a little bit nervous. You probably won't know the people who are in your group. And if you totally forget what you're supposed to say, absolutely totally fine. It's a space for practice. As long as you're trying to participate respectfully, you're doing it right today. And then hopefully you can do a better job. Of course if you really don't feel comfortable and really don't want to do it, that's fine just say 'pass'. We encourage you to have a go. So I'm just going to split everyone into little groups. And because we are running a bit over, I'll just give everyone, I'll say five minutes. So we'll be quite little groups. Okay, go. See you guys in five minutes. (silence)

So just starting to welcome everyone back to the main group. And just put up a quick poll about how you felt it went, hopefully everyone got a chance to have a go. And I can see there's a bit of a spread. Most people thought it went pretty well, they could do a little bit better. And no total disasters. That's very good to see. So thank you guys for participating in that. Luke you were going to talk a little bit about what it is that people can do next. What comes after having your first go? Have we got Luke there?

Luke Allan

Sorry. I thought I'd actually unmuted that. So the thing now for you guys is to get out and actually undertake the Acknowledgements. Look for different opportunities to do that. And step up and also arrange Welcome to Country where appropriate... Engage with the local community, have those conversations about the land and the people. It's a good opportunity for yourself to get that education as well. And form those relationships. I think that's key to the messages I said before around moving forward and the sharing of Aboriginal cultures. But not just that, but also our shared histories. And once you get comfortable with it from a basic perspective, the wording, you can start to integrate some of that information yourself.

And in the group, we spoke about changing the wording up. And I think that's a great message. You can have some of the same messaging, but just try and change the wording up and integrate different information, whether it's about Country or culture, and as I said, our shared histories. I use it as an opportunity to bring to life some of those stories that have been documented by the early contact that we've had, and also some of the oral Histories that I've been lucky enough to share through my own families and communities.

And it's a really special thing to do, and you can be generous in that space, and Aboriginal people will be - if that feeling of being genuine and that level of engagement comes from that perspective there, people will be generous and share information about themselves, culture and their communities.

And it's an important opportunity for anyone to be involved in it and albeit it could be a small thing, but I think that's where we start with those points, and then continue to build on those relationships in our own knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal people and cultures. And that also leads to other practical things that you can do to learn about those things and share with the broader community.

Melissa Hamblin Biggs

Thanks Luke. I know we're wildly out of time, but we might just go through a couple of questions in the chat. Obviously it was still rather large groups. We mightn't get to all of them. But if anyone's got any burning questions or they want to just pop up now?

Cherie Stephenson

Melissa, it's Cherie here. I've been answering some of the questions as we go to try and get back to people. Something that came up in our breakout group... There was myself, of course being Pākehā, white, New Zealand woman, and there was a Maori lady online as well. We were discussing the differences in the Aboriginal and Maori cultures. And I think the key point for me there is to not assume that all indigenous people have the same culture. So you might be an Indigenous person of your own country. And so it's always worthwhile having that discussion with the local indigenous community in your Australian area, to make sure that you're really understanding what they're all about and where they're coming from too. So I was really grateful to speak with a Maori lady in our group. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

Melissa Hamblin Biggs

There's a question on there, which I think is a very education, schools focused one. Is it inappropriate to, include an Acknowledgement everyday in class during roll call? I don't know if someone from our team wants to respond to that?

Luke Allan

So one of the guys, ladies, within a breakout group said that, 'I do it every day in class and I share it around'. I think that's a great way to for everyone to be involved, rather than just the playing the sole responsibility of the teacher or one person within the class. I think it's a great opportunity to share it around and speak about what we've discussed and doing some of your own research, and engagement with community to learn about how you can broaden on the acknowledgement. Even the concept of the way that we presented today of the non-Aboriginal colleagues and Aboriginal colleagues, done as a bit of a united front, to share it from an Aboriginal perspective and non-Aboriginal perspective. I think that's a great way to do it as well.

Melissa Hamblin Biggs

We might just start winding down. Tamara you are going to give a bit of information about where people can go for a little bit more information.

Tamara Saunders

Yep. So basically on the screen... You can always use the RAP page for a reminder about what we've talked about today and Acknowledgement of Country and Welcome to Country section, the page and also our EventBright page also a great way to keep up with our future events that we're offering. We also have some great resources and ideas about what you can do about reconciliation in the department and in your community. And also you can keep up to date with our job opportunities, good news stories and events on the department's Aboriginal programsFacebook, that is called 'Aboriginal Programs New South Wales DOE'. So it's open to everyone. And if you're a staff member of New South Wales Department of Education, we strongly encourage you to join the Reconciliation Action Plan Yammer Group.

Melissa Hamblin Biggs

Oh, we have a bit of homework for everyone

Darren Bell

Melissa, one of the big questions was, will this recording be available?

Melissa Hamblin Biggs

Yes. The recording will definitely be available on that RAP page, education.nsw.gov.au/rap. And if you go in there to our events, you'll see recordings are available for this and other events as well, that we've put on, and we'll possibly run this one again. If people are interested.

Darren Bell

Also, Melissa, what I was thinking of doing if this is possible though, because there's quite a few questions in the chat and we can't get to all of them obviously, I was thinking maybe we could save these questions and respond and then host them somewhere or something.

Melissa Hamblin Biggs

That is a very good idea. I think it's probably technically possible. I will endeavor to copy all the chat before I close the meeting. I will say we can provide some answers just to-

Darren Bell

I just want to bring it up.

Melissa Hamblin Biggs

Yeah. It's a really good idea. I'm sorry to everyone whose questions we didn't get to. So the homework that we wanted to share was, if you're one of those people didn't know what Country that you were on this morning, your homework is to go and find out. We'd really appreciate you trying to do that. And Luke, if you wanted to just close for us.

Luke Allan

Yeah. So thanks for popping in guys. And thanks for taking the time out of your day to come along and have the opportunity to learn a bit more about Acknowledgement and and Welcome's to Country. And as Darren said, there's lots of questions there. And I think it aligns with not just finding out the nation which you're on, but from my perspective, going out there and engaging with community, developing those relationships and continuing, continuing to build your own capacity around not just Acknowledgement, but community and culture as well. It's a good practice that we continue to do that and integrate it back into the way that we engage with whether it's kids within school or right through that spectrum of education.

Melissa Hamblin Biggs

Super. Well, I add my thanks to Luke's for everyone, for your participation. Thank you so much for joining and the recording will be available on that RAP page. Goodbye everybody.

Luke Allan

Thanks everyone.

Tamara Saunders

Bye.

Luke Allan

Bye.

Melissa Hamblin Biggs

Thanks.

End of transcript.

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