Why Acknowledgement of Country matters to me
As we conclude NAIDOC Week, Briana Baass, Chief Allied Health Officer and Partnerships, reflects on the significance of ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ and why we do it.
I love my job. I feel really blessed to get to work with the variety of teams within this Division at Northern Health. There is such a rich and diverse pool of knowledge across the Division and I find myself learning new things from these teams every week.
One area I find particularly rewarding is working with Narrun Wilip-Giin, Aboriginal Support Unit. They have been extremely generous with their knowledge in educating me about cultural protocols and cultural safety.
As a part of my role, I have the honour of participating in discussions about how we can improve services for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, including chairing the Aboriginal Advisory Committee, and the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service/Northern Health MOU Steering Committee.
When I commence meetings and events that l am chairing, I start the session with an Acknowledgement of Country, as a sign of respect to the Aboriginal Traditional Owners of the land. It has been really important to learn more about this cultural protocol and understand why we choose to do this.
This cultural protocol acknowledges that we are visiting the lands of Aboriginal people who have lived in specific areas over thousands of years. It allows me to acknowledge the original people of the land on which we are gathered. This protocol can be done by anybody including non-Indigenous people at the start of significant meetings or events, usually by the chair, prior to any business being conducted.
The term ‘Country’ is at the heart of the cultural protocol and it is explained well by Professor Mick Dodson who says:
“When we talk about traditional ‘Country’… we mean something beyond the dictionary definition of the word. For Aboriginal Australians … we might mean homeland, or tribal or clan area and we might mean more than just a place on the map. For us, Country is a word for all the values, places, resources, stories and cultural obligations associated with that area and its features. It describes the entirety of our ancestral domains. While they may all no longer necessarily be the title-holders to land, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are still connected to the Country of their ancestors and most consider themselves the custodians or caretakers of their land.”
At Northern Health, we have a statement we can use for an Acknowledgement of Country and I like to use these at our divisional meetings, Standards CIC meetings, or other events that I chair. The statement being:
“Northern Health acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land, the Wurundjeri people, on whose land we are meeting on today, and pays respect to Elders past present and emerging; and to any Aboriginal persons present here today”.
All Northern Health sites are situated on Wurundjeri land.
Recognising that I occasionally talk to a much broader audience across Australia, especially now that we have so many virtual events, I may use a more general acknowledgement as other participants may be in other parts of the country, and not on Wurundjeri land, such as:
“In the spirit of reconciliation we acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples here today” .
At times I will say: “Wominjeka”, which means ‘Welcome’ in Woiwurrung language, the language of the Wurundjeri people.
Mainstream services must engage with Traditional Owner groups if they wish to have a formal “Welcome to Country”. This can only be conducted by Traditional Owners or Custodians of a particular area across Australia. A Welcome to Country is often accompanied by a Smoking Ceremony to welcome people to their lands.
I am enjoying learning more and more about these cultural protocols and I hope you will join me so that we can all take accountability for educating ourselves about First Nations people of Australia and their customs and practices.
Northern Health acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Northern Health’s campuses are built, the Wurundjeri people, and pay our respects to Elders past and present