Monday, 3 October 2022

"Welcome to country" or an "acknowledgment"?

I am going to dive into this debate - and hope I don't get drowned.

There were protests at a footy match this weekend because some people objected to what is known as a "welcome to country" ceremony performed beforehand. Their objections were not made in the appropriate way - or in the appropriate place. The incident has been labelled "racist" by many and those who participated should be condemned.

A "welcome to country" ceremony was something performed by some indigenous tribes in this country when another tribe entered their territory. It was a way of saying something like "please come in" or "you're welcome on our land" or "we won't harm  you". It is also likely that there were rituals associated with this that only the male members of a tribe were involved in. It was not a universal ceremony and the way in which such ceremonies were conducted varied widely.

Up until I was an adult I had never known any such "ceremony" to be held in front of non-indigenous people. It would not have been considered at all appropriate. Then, in 1976, two indigenous entertainers performed what they said was a "welcome to country" ceremony for their audiences. It was of course no such thing because it would not have been appropriate to do it at any time but especially not in those circumstances.

What it did do was give some activists ideas. They could say this was traditional, that it was a way of acknowledging the first inhabitants, that it would show respect and give permission for events to be held on the land owned by the first inhabitants. It would remind people of the past, the need to consider indigenous people in the present and of how decisions made would affect them in the future. 

As a result there has been a "Welcome to country" ceremony in Federal Parliament since 2008. Similar ceremonies are held at other events - the football match being one of them. Only people who are recognised as indigenous can take part in such a ceremony.

There is also what is known as an "acknowledgment". This is a statement - the wording of which can vary - which is supposed to show respect for the "traditional custodians" of the land and their relationship with it. It can be spoken by either an indigenous or non-indigenous person. It does not involve permission as such, rather it is a recognition. There is no historical precedent for it. Almost every meeting I have attended from 2008 on has included a recitation of an "acknowledgment".

The arguments for doing these things are not because of "tradition" or "culture". They are a form of political correctness which has been demanded of the majority by a tiny minority with immense influence.

I am opposed to these things. I hope that doesn't make me "racist". It is certainly not because I am opposed to a welcome to country ceremony as such. My own view is they were once a very important part of the culture of some tribes and they undoubtedly prevented bloodshed at times. But what is "performed" now is not a traditional welcome to country ceremony.  It could not be. Many of those who perform it and "identify" as indigenous have not been accepted by or initiated into an indigenous tribe. Their claims to indigenous ancestry can be as little as 1/64th First Nation heritage because there is no definition of what constitutes "indigenous" in this country.  What is now being performed is a piece of modern theatre designed to send a particular political message. I know indigenous people, people who would be instantly recognised as indigenous, who feel  very uncomfortable about such ceremonies. They feel their culture has been hijacked by people they do not even acknowledge as being indigenous.

Nor do we need a constant reminder of the past "ownership" of the land and a demand we recognise it as "stolen".  This is not about "respect", especially when those we are speaking about are not even present. Instead this is designed to try and make us feel some form of vicarious guilt for the actions of past people over whom we had no control.

There is no doubt a time and a place for a "welcome to country" ceremony but the frequency and places in which they are held makes them largely meaningless. They should be reserved for very special occasions - as they were originally reserved.  Acknowledgments should be offered in the same way. They should be reserved for occasions, special occasions, so that they have real meaning. The present demands for constant acknowledgment are doing more harm than good.

No comments: