Indigenous Australians as a community have not been treated well since other people started settling here.
One of the ways that some people have tried to rectify this is by inviting indigenous elders to welcome them to country. Typically this is done where people from the following types of organisations are meeting together:
– some public servants and politicians
– community organisations
– some universities
– some churches
I have never heard of it being done where people from the following types of organisations are meeting together:
– private companies and corporations
– Sydney Anglican churches (or any evangalical churches for that matter).
Welcome to country is not a token action. It involves an indigenous elder, native to the area in which you are meeting, welcoming you in a way that is meaningful to them. Sometimes a welcome to country can feel token, if it is staged. But usually these welcomes are heartfelt and very meaningful moments.
I have been welcomed to country twice, both times in the context of an NGO conference. One was a very subtle, normal kind of welcome. The elder got up, greeted us, welcomed us and told us how she hoped that our conference would be a good and useful process. It was a very hope-filled welcome to country.
The other one was weird and wonderful. We were in the Blacktown Town Hall, and the elder who welcomed us did the normal kind of talking, welcoming us to the country around Blacktown. But she wasn’t finished there. She went to get her guitar and then came back and played us a song that she had written about being an Aboriginal woman in Blacktown. Lyrically and musically I think it was the worst song I have ever heard performed. But it came from her heart and it spoke about the experiences of her and other women in the area who struggle with their indigenous identity and the way they are treated. It was definitely not a token action. We all definitely felt welcomed, not just to the place we were meeting, but also to its indigenous community.
Thought 1: I have heard many people back away from being welcomed to country, saying it is a token gesture. I don’t think that is the problem. I think the problem is that deep down we know that if we, the migrants and children of migrants, encourage indigenous people to welcome us to country, then we are opening up room to question western assumptions about land and land ownership.