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Welcome to Country Recommended in NSW public school

Welcome to Country recommended in NSW Public Schools

Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country are important aspects of the life of many schools. Their role has been strengthened by a recommendation from the recently-completed Review of Aboriginal Education in New South Wales.

NSW Education and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Dr Andrew Refshauge announced in January 2005 that public schools would be strongly encouraged to acknowledge Aboriginal people as the original custodians of the land at assemblies and similar formal school functions.

Dr Refshauge said that the new guidelines were not compulsory but were a 'useful' thing for schools. "People do want to recognise the traditional owners, that's been part of a growing feeling about people understanding our history and having respect, and all political parties have agreed that respect is the starting point you need for Reconciliation," Dr Refshauge said. He added that the Review found that acknowledging Aboriginal identity, "belonging to the land and to each other," was linked to improving overall outcomes for Indigenous students.

As the guidelines make clear, anyone can make Acknowledgment of Country, but only a traditional owner/elder can provide Welcome to Country.

The recommended wording of the Acknowledgment - for example, for schools in Sydney's CBD and eastern suburbs - would be: "I would like to acknowledge the Gadigal people, who are the traditional custodians of this land. I would also like to pay respect to the elders, both past and present, of the Eora nation, and extend that respect to other Aboriginals present."

Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country has previously occurred in many NSW schools, especially when dignitaries such as the NSW or federal Education Ministers were present.

An interesting aspect of the Review is that the Minister vetoed a plan to establish a new directorate of Aboriginal education within the Department. He believes this plan would have sent the wrong message, and that it was critical that Aboriginal education be seen as mainstream, as 'everybody's business'.

Michael Winkler

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