Acknowledgement of Country

Heritage NSW acknowledges and pays respect to the traditional custodians of the lands and waters of NSW, and pays respect to Elders, past and present.

We respectfully acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land and waters of New South Wales, and their continuing cultural, spiritual customs and practices.

Heritage NSW begins all official meetings, functions and special occasions with a Welcome to Country or Acknowledgment of Country, following the protocols for when either ceremony is appropriate.

A guide to Aboriginal cultural protocols for NSW government sector events

Used with permission from Gunni Thakun Cultural Association (GTCA)

Who can do a Welcome to Country

A Welcome to Country is a very specific cultural protocol that allows for an Aboriginal Elder,  or nominated representative of the traditional custodians to welcome all of the participants at an occasion or event to the country of their people and their ancestors. This practice is not only an official welcome, it allows for the wider community to reflect on the connection that Aboriginal people have with country and the importance of country to their existence, past and present.

The Welcome may involve a speech, song, traditional dance and/or smoking ceremony.

If you are unsure about who are traditional custodians of that land, in the first instance ask local Aboriginal individuals, groups and organisations such as Elders, Elders Groups and the Local Aboriginal Land Council.

When a Welcome to Country is needed

When an event has significance for Aboriginal people a welcoming ceremony should always be arranged. Examples of significant cultural events include for example:

  • Survival Day
  • National Sorry Day
  • National Reconciliation Week
  • National NAIDOC Week

A Welcome to Country should also be arranged for major public forums and functions. For example:

  • Openings of festivals
  • Conferences
  • Community engagement forums
  • Awards presentations

The Elder, or nominated representative of the traditional custodians, will give their support to the event, function, meeting or occasion. In response, the host acknowledges the traditional custodians and pays their respects to Elders past and present.

Acknowledgement of Country

An Acknowledgement of Country is a practice that allows for any individual to pay their respects to Aboriginal people, country, culture, heritage and the ongoing relationship Aboriginal people have with the land. An acknowledgement can be done by other Aboriginal people (not representing the traditional custodians) and non-Aboriginal people, both children and adults.

An Acknowledgement of Country differs from a Welcome to Country because it can be given by anyone and may be given in the absence of an Aboriginal elder or other representatives of the traditional custodians.     

An Acknowledgement of Country should always be given at events and forums such as government meetings, official openings, and conferences.

The first speaker at an event or function, in response to a Welcome to Country or in the absence of a Welcome to Country, should give the acknowledgement. Subsequent speakers may also give an acknowledgement. 

What to say

For an Acknowledgement of Country, here is a guide for what to say :

“I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands on which we meet today (name of the custodian group) and the Elders, past and present. I acknowledge the ongoing connection that Aboriginal people have to this land and recognise Aboriginal people as the original custodians of this land. I would also like to acknowledge any Aboriginal people that are present here today.”

Or

‘I would like to show my respect and acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land, on which this meeting takes place. I respectfully acknowledge the (name of custodian group) people who are the traditional custodians of the land on which we stand.’