'Recognition not tokenism': Aboriginal groups

15th March 2010 ABC

AUDIO: Glen Kelly from the South-West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council (ABC News)

Welcome to Country by the women Elders at Umoona Aged Care, Coober Pedy for Governor General Mrs Bryce
Image: Coober Pedy Regional Times

Aboriginal groups have rejected claims by the federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott that acknowledging the traditional owners of land at official functions is tokenism.

Mr Abbott says there are occasions when it is appropriate but most times it just looks like formalism and tokenism.

West Australian MP Wilson Tuckey says it is a farce and should not be done at all.

But, the Kimberley Land Council has stressed the importance of acknowledging Aboriginals at official functions.

The KLC's Nolan Hunter says Aboriginals need to be recognised for the sacrifices they have made in the past and their long history.

"If you consider that Aboriginal people are Australia's oldest living culture, people ought to be proud that Aboriginal people are part of their society."

A spokesman for the South West Land and Sea Council in Western Australia Glen Kelly says acknowledgement is necessary.

"It's not tokenism, it's actually recognition."

"In Nyoongah culture and, I dare say, in Aboriginal culture across Australia, it's very important that when you visit someone else's country that you recognise the people who are there and get ceremonially introduced and accepted to that country."

JA Crystal - March 15, 2010 Abbott sparks row over indigenous owners Sydney Morning Herald - AAP

Libs welcome furore over traditional land

Yuko Narushima and Joel Gibson www.theage.com.au March 16, 2010

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's assertion that Aboriginal welcomes to country are tokenistic has fractured Parliament and angered indigenous people.

Acknowledgments to traditional land owners are now commonplace at official functions attended by government ministers. Speeches typically begin with a credit to the first Australians on whose land we meet.

But yesterday, the Liberal backbencher Wilson Tuckey refused to "thank" Aboriginal people for accessing traditional land.

"I am very, very, very opposed to doing it … I refuse. I never have thanked anyone for the right to be on the soil that is Australia. Those that have come here have done everything in their power to improve it," he said.

He went on to call the Aboriginal tent embassy in Canberra a slum and categorised indigenous dancers as "grossly overweight".

The comments angered Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin, who said they were appalling. "Welcome to country acknowledgments play an important role for many Australians," she said.

"Mr Abbott needs to show some leadership and pull Wilson Tuckey into line and make him apologise for his extreme comments."

No rule requires federal ministers to acknowledge traditional owners. Ms Macklin's department, however, has guidelines for welcomes to country which are encouraged among staff.

The Greens and independent senator Nick Xenophon support the acknowledgments.

The debate was ignited when Mr Abbott dismissed the practice as "out-of-place tokenism".

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner, Mick Gooda, said traditional acknowledgments were merely statements of fact.

"As a nation, we have now moved beyond debating what is a self-evident truth about our history," Commissioner Gooda said. "Acknowledging traditional owners is a matter of respect."

Clarence Slockee, who has performed welcome ceremonies at Sydney's Opera House, said it was "just good manners" to include acknowledgment of traditional owners.

It remained confusing for many non-indigenous people, and had created issues at times because of continuing arguments among indigenous Australians in some areas over which was the appropriate group to acknowledge.

But he believed most in government and the bureaucracy would do it even if not required. "The whole thing is just to remind people of where they are."

Mary-Ruth Mendel, the founder of the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation, said acknowledgments ensured that we remembered what had happened to indigenous people.

"I think people are more accepting of acknowledging that now," she said.

Former Liberal leader Brendan Nelson promised in 2008 that a welcome to country would always be part of future Australian Parliaments.