Understanding "Country" and its links to reconciliation
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 126 No 2, 12 March 2021, page no. 25
The QTU has a vision for reconciliation
Our vision for reconciliation is for a society that respects, protects, and promotes the rights of all, and in which Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians live and work together with mutual respect and understanding, free from discrimination and harassment. As the union for Queensland state schools, TAFE teachers and education leaders, we recognise the unique role our schools and educational institutions have in achieving this vision.
Understanding “Country” and the direct links between this understanding and true reconciliation cannot be overstated.
So, what is Country?
Country means place of origin, literally, culturally, or spiritually. It can have the political meaning of “nation” but refers to an area rather than a nation-state such as Australia. However, Country refers to more than just a geographical area: it is shorthand for all the values, places, resources, stories, and cultural obligations associated with that geographical area. For coastal Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples, Country includes both the land and sea area, which are regarded as inseparable from each other.
Understanding is key
To understand the importance of Country to Indigenous Australians, there must be a deep understanding that particular areas of land, waterways and sea are central to the identity, culture and social structure of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. There needs to be a recognition of the significance of sacred sites, and the need to secure an independent economic base while maintaining traditional associations with land, waterways and sea.
It also involves an acknowledgment and recognition of the effects of dispossession and the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander efforts, and government policies, on recognising, rebuilding and maintaining links with traditional Country.
The benefits for all Australians
A greater understanding of the importance of country in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies has many benefits for non-Indigenous Australians, as it improves relations and promotes understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Creating this sense of understanding is central to the process of reconciliation.
Other benefits include improved communication between Indigenous peoples, government departments, industry and community groups; enhanced economic independence as well as greater opportunities for Aboriginal people’s and Torres Strait Islander people’s cultural expression and development. Australia’s international human rights reputation will be enhanced if all Australian’s rights are recognised. A greater understanding of the importance of Country to Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples would benefit the management of the environment, and hence all Australians.
So next time you hear someone acknowledge Country or you offer your own acknowledgement to the traditional owners, take a moment to reflect on what Country really means to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and how a deeper understanding can impact upon Australia’s reconciliation journey.