Cultural Awareness Protocols and Advice

Indigenous Cultural Protocols: Guidelines

The development of respectful relationships between institutions such as the University of Melbourne and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians is an important step in the broader social movement towards reconciliation. Respect can be manifested in a number of ways. On formal occasions, respect can be demonstrated through the recognition of Indigenous Cultural Protocols.

‘Acknowledgement of Country’ and ‘Welcome to Country’

There are two distinct Cultural Protocols – an ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ and a ‘Welcome to Country’. The distinction between these protocols is important as it can cause offence if they are confused.

An ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ is a statement of recognition and respect that is made by someone (Indigenous or non-Indigenous) who is not a Traditional Owner/Custodian of the Country or land on which the statement is being made. An ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ can be offered as a formal or informal statement. Depending on your event, you may want to extend the acknowledgement to other Indigenous people who may be present or to the Indigenous leadership at the University.

A ‘Welcome to Country’ is a statement of welcome that can only be made by a Traditional Owner/Custodian of the land or Country on which the statement is being made. The Welcome to Country is also known as a Traditional Welcome. This allows Traditional Owners/Custodians to give their blessing to the event. Only a representative from the Traditional Nation/Clan of the location at which the function is being held can provide a Welcome to Country.

There are no firm rules that distinguish those occasions when it is preferable for a ‘Welcome to Country’ as opposed to an ‘Acknowledgement of Country’. However, for occasions of greater cultural significance it is preferable to follow the ‘Welcome to Country’ protocol (such as an international conference with a large contingent of Indigenous participants, and significant cultural events such as Wominjeka). In the event that a Traditional Owner/Custodian is unable to provide a ‘Welcome to Country’, an ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ is an appropriate substitute.

Courtesies to Indigenous Australians

Indigenous Australians are using their intellectual property when they provide cultural services such as a ‘Welcome to Country’, dance and music performances, and ceremonies (e.g. a smoking ceremony). As such, they should be remunerated for these services.

Please ensure you have a long lead-time when booking these cultural services because leaving it until the last minute will often mean Elders and/or performers are not available.

Please contact Murrup Barak for more Information

More information can be found in The University of Melbourne Indigenous Cultural Protocols Guidelines.