The following is an article by the Huon News, originally published on Wednesday, 4 December 2019. Republished here with permission.
At its Ordinary Meeting last Wednesday, the Huon Valley Council (HVC) confirmed that it would not alter its Acknowledgement of Country.
Welcome to Country has been performed by Australia’s Aboriginal people for time immemorial – a ceremony held when permission was granted for mobs to enter neighbouring lands.
In 1992, the Mabo case recognised Native Title and land rights, and this saw the genesis of Acknowledgement of Country, a short ceremony where non-indigenous people acknowledged the traditional owners and custodians of the land, their Elders, past and present (later the acknowledgement was expanded to also recognise emerging Elders) and their customs and culture.
It has been official Federal Government protocol to deliver an Acknowledgement of Country at the beginning of every parliamentary session since 2010, and many state and local governments have since adopted the practice.
The Governor of Tasmania Her Excellency Professor the Honourable Kate Warner AC, is a fierce proponent of rights for Tasmanian Aboriginal people and, when she acknowledges Country, always also acknowledges the truth of history, speaking of the invasion, dispossession and genocide of the past.
Julie Dunlop, in her Welcome to Country, never fails to speak of the importance of acknowledging the truth of history in order to move forward in reconciliation for both indigenous and non-indigenous people.
She says it is not about accepting blame for what has happened in the past, but about finding a way to address the effects that this history has had, and is still having, on Aboriginal people.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders continue to experience exclusion, discrimination and oppression, and acknowledging Country is a good step towards reconciliation.
South East Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation (SETAC) CEO Tracey Dillon said that it is important for government and non-government organisations to be leaders when it comes to telling the truth about Australian history.
“It takes courage to speak out, but courage is exactly what is needed if we want to move forward together in reconciliation,” said Ms Dillon.
“The truth of indigenous Australian history since invasion is ugly, but it still needs to be acknowledged and accepted, so that healing can take place.”
Huon Valley Mayor Bec Enders adopted the language of Governor Warner’s acknowledgement early in her tenure at HVC.
At the June Ordinary meeting Mayor Enders’ acknowledgement was, “I begin by paying my respects to the traditional and original owners of this land, the Melukerdee people. I acknowledge the contemporary Tasmanian Aboriginal community, who have survived invasion, dispossession and continue to maintain their identity, culture and indigenous rights, we pay respect to them, to their Elders and their customs, past present and emerging.”
By November, this had been altered to remove the reference to invasion and dispossession, acknowledging instead that sharing their culture and traditions with the next generation was and remains essential today to the continued rights of Aboriginal people, “we celebrate their culture, a culture that is over 40,000 years old in Tasmania and is the oldest continuous living culture in the world.”
At the November HVC Ordinary Meeting, Councillor Mike Wilson rescinded a motion that sought to change the acknowledgement to include all residents of the Huon Valley, saying that he was seeking unity for all.
During public question time, George Knight, on behalf of SETAC CEO Tracey Dillon and chairman Rodney Dillon, asked for assurance that respect of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people would remain intact in HVC’s Acknowledgement of Country.
“As the First Nations people, it is important that we are not made invisible by council just as our history has in the past,” said George.
“We are the First Nations people and have never ceded sovereignty over this land and all we want is the respect to welcome people on to Country.
“What measures, for example policies and procedures will the council put in place to ensure this respect to our people is maintained?”
Mayor Enders said that the Acknowledgement would remain as it was at the November meeting until a Reconciliation Action Plan could be put into place at HVC.
“(Council) has endorsed a contract with Reconciliation Tasmania,” said Mayor Enders.
“In around February next year Reconciliation Tasmania will be here working with councillors and council staff and with SETAC and other stakeholders so that we can fill the needs and requirements of a Reconciliation Action Plan.
“There will be dialogue and engagement with SETAC.”
Mayor Enders said that council is also mindful of the protocols surrounding Acknowledgement of Country and that they will ensure those protocols are followed.