I like to open all my classes with an acknowledgement of Country. Why?
As a non-indigenous Australian, I am aware of the history of our country. I cannot deny that the foundation of our present day culture is based upon a history of oppression, dismissal and denial of the first people of this continent. It is a history of violence and trauma and everyone of us is impacted by this today. The threads of that original oppression are woven into the fabric of our culture today. Of course, what happened can’t be changed, we can’t wind back the clock. But, we can reexamine the values that allowed the atrocities to happen over 200 years ago and decide whether we want to perpetuate them today.
By recognising the harm that was done then, and since, we recognise the resulting mass of unmetabolised hurt that requires healing in our culture today. We are all a part of the healing that is required whether we descend from the colonisers, the colonised or from a mixture of both.
I acknowledge country because I acknowledge that our culture began with an act of oppression. And oppression of any kind is not aligned with my deepest truth and what I stand for.
I am a stand for peace, equality and unity of all peoples. I want my life to be an expression of those values. I believe in the interconnection of all of life and that we are an extension of the earth, not here to dominate and plunder it.
The culture that was imposed upon the people who were already here reflected the colonial, patriarchal and capitalist views of the time. We have come some way towards refining these views by looking back and recognising the wrongs of the past, but we’re not there yet. Oppression and abuse of power are still part of our day to day lives and we need to be ever vigilant to call them out and move towards a society that recognises the worth of our fundamental human existence, not just where we fit within the hierarchy defined by these dominant views.
This isn’t a binary for me. I’m not suggesting that everything that has happened since white settlement is bad. The systems and structures that grew from those early roots are useful in facilitating the functioning of our lives today. I am suggesting that we need to disentangle what is useful, from what perpetuates more modern forms of oppression that continue unnoticed and unchecked within our systems and structures.
I recognise that there is more to being a human being than the dominant cultural narratives that uphold the systems and structures that we live within. Inherent in them is a tolerance for the oppression of anyone who does not align. These dominant cultural narratives act like invisible forces that we are expected to adhere to without question. They lack humanity, compassion and empathy; the very things I stand for.
As Xavier Rudd says in one of his songs “do any of you feel like any of this is wrong?” It feels wrong to me, for example, that the people who look after our elders and children get paid the minimum wage and the people who look after administering our man made laws and financial system get paid top dollar. It feels wrong to me that people are still marginalised for any number of reasons including skin colour, education, sexuality, ability, body size, mental health, to name a few.
What seems to matter more than our fundamental human worth is our productivity, our knowledge of the systems and structures of the day and an understanding of the ‘other’ to hold the projections of all that does not align with the dominant cultural values. Certain differences are attributed greater worth and there is not an acknowledgement of our underlying human value simply because we exist. We value the construct of our economy over our environment and many of us refuse to acknowledge that this attitude is destroying our planet.
I acknowledge Country and the history of this land because I find it unacceptable to be silent about abuse and oppression of people and the earth. I want the truth to be told and I hold compassion, empathy and our fundamental humanity as more important than the dominant cultural narratives of our day.