Indigenous Australians as a community have not been treated well since other people started settling here.
Another way that some people have tried to rectify this is by “acknowledging country” in public addresses or public gatherings. 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, including only two Sydney Anglican churches that I know of (see Leichhardt’s response to the apology to the stolen generation here.
I have never heard of it being done where people from the following types of organisations are meeting together:
– private companies and corporations
Acknowledgement of country is, more often than not, a very token action. It involves a non-Indigenous person saying a sentence at the beginning of their presentation that goes something like:
“Before I begin, I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land that we meet on, both past and present.”
Then they continue on with their presentation.
Like all other words, these words have no inherent power. It is a very bad thing that as I child I used to apologise to my sister after I hit her, to appease my parents, and then turn around and do it again as soon as they left the room. It is a very bad thing when people make promises with no intention of keeping them. And it is a very bad thing when people acknowledge the fact almost all indigenous people in Australia have been dispossessed for the last couple of years and then go on with your presentation like nothing needs to change.
Some people say these words because it is the socially acceptable thing to do in the circles they move in.
Some people refuse to say these words because it is not a socially acceptable thing to do in the circles they move in.
Some people say these words because they feel that indigenous people as a community have been mistreated since 1788, and they want to communicate their regret and desire to see things change.
The best acknowledgement of country I have heard was at the Lesvian book launch last month. Vasilis Vaslilas, the recently arrived Lesvian migrant who authored the book, opened his speech with words that went something like:
“Before I say anything else, I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, the Dharug people, and their elders, past and present. We Greeks know the importance of topos*, the place we belong to, and the place where we live”
A giant room full of first generation migrants murmured in agreement. I wished that there were some indigenous people in the room to hear it.
Thought 2: I have heard many people back away from acknowledging country, saying it is a token gesture. Heck yes it will be a token gesture if you do it with an attitude like that!
*Topos (Τόπος): Place