Even the most conversant educator can be sobered by the stark reminder that Indigenous Australia comprises more than 400 individual tribal or nation groups, and more than 700 different languages.
Speaking to teacher-delegates at the inaugural Aboriginal Education K-12 Conference last month, Natalie Pierson, a proud Koori woman from La Perouse and an Aboriginal Education and Engagement Advisor for the Department of Education, explained that when an Aboriginal person speaks of “Country” it means so much more than the continent known as Australia.
“Country is that place we come from,” she said. “It is where our soul breathes; it is where our mob are, our homeland, our tribal clan area. It is our values, our traditions, our language, our songs and our stories. It is not just a place on a map.”
Explaining the vital importance of the Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country ceremonies, Ms Pierson said that “welcoming others onto the land” asks for an assurance that local protocols will be upheld; that the guest is acknowledging the legacy of the land’s elders and stepping onto their country with respect.
“While a Welcome to Country ceremony can only be performed by an elder of that country, teachers and school leaders should embrace their freedom to perform an Acknowledgement of Country,” Ms Pierson explained.
“It pays the utmost respect to Aboriginal Australians, recognising them as the first Australians and it promotes an awareness of the history and culture of Aboriginal people.
"It formally acknowledges Aboriginal people’s ongoing connection to the land and puts Aboriginal Australians back on the map, recognising their contributions.”
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