Both a Welcome to Country and an Acknowledgement of Country are statements of recognition to the continuing connection Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have with the land. They often take place at the start of events, particularly formal ones such as weddings, and are done in the spirit of reconciliation.
What is “Country”?
Professor Mick Dodson, member of the Yawuru peoples, describes Country as “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”
Acknowledgement or Welcome? What’s the difference?
A Welcome to Country is a ceremony performed by Indigenous Traditional Custodians to welcome visitors to their traditional land. It can only be done by Traditional Custodians of the land that you are on. If no Traditional Custodian is available, an Aboriginal person from a different nation, or a non-Indigenous person, may do an Acknowledgement of Country instead. A Welcome to Country normally takes place at the beginning of an event. The ceremony can take many forms, including singing, dancing, smoking ceremonies or a speech, depending on the particular culture of the Traditional Custodians.
An Acknowledgement of Country is a statement that shows awareness of and respect for the Traditional Custodians of the land you are on and their long and continuing relationship with the land. Unlike a Welcome to Country, it can be delivered by anyone – Indigenous or non-Indigenous. This means you can ask your celebrant, minister or even a friend to open your wedding ceremony with an Acknowledgement of Country.
What to say for an Acknowledgement of Country:
Liaise directly with your celebrant to ensure the wording feels appropriate and genuine. They might also want to do some research through your local land council into the history of the land you are getting married on to see what special significance it holds.
Here is some suggested wording:
“Before we begin, (Name) and (Name) have asked me to to acknowledge that this wedding is being held on the traditional lands of the (appropriate group) people of the (name of Aboriginal nation) nation, and they would like to pay their respect to Elders both past, present and future.”
“(Name) and (Name) would like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture. It always was, and always will be Aboriginal land. They would also like to pay their respects to Elders past, present and emerging, and acknowledge any Aboriginal people who may be with us today.”
Disclaimer: I do not identify as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person. I have drawn upon various Aboriginal-led resources, as well as my experiences as a wedding industry professional. If you are looking for more ways to be inclusive and anti-racist at your wedding, I would encourage you to do your own research.