“Doing better” is a phrase I have been using a lot recently. Over the last few months and years, it has become increasingly important to me to understand how Druidry works in terms of our relationship with Indigenous traditions. As an Australian Druid this means learning about Aboriginal culture and the expectations there are for us as people on stolen, unceded land to act with respect at take time to find out more about the first nations cultures of the lands that we call home. This is a long learning journey for non-Aboriginal Australians and it will take time and effort for us to come to a position where we are really doing right by Aboriginal people. There’s a lot to learn and to unlearn but in the process. I know I make mistakes and stumble along as I learn to do better, but if we keep that as the goal – to always be trying to do better, we will make a difference.
Since I returned from the UK in 2008 I have made learning about Aboriginal culture an important part of how I approach Australian Druidry. I included a small chapter of my book Australian Druidry about honouring Indigenous wisdom. I did not go into a great amount of detail about this at the time for a couple of reasons – for one, I think we should be learning from Aboriginal people about this subject, and two, I was really only at the beginning of my journey of learning and still needed a great deal of guidance myself.
Before I go on, I want to make it clear that I recognise many people in Druidry can be Aboriginal or have Aboriginal heritage. I have met many who either identify as Aboriginal or who are interested in finding out more about a lost part of their Aboriginal family heritage, often through the trials of the stolen generations. I don’t want to erase your experience from Druidry by speaking from my own non-Aboriginal perspective. I see you. But I also know that the majority of Druids in Australia are non-Aboriginal and have a lot to learn about Aboriginal culture, and here I am mainly speaking to that perspective.
In the book chapter I covered fairly minimal ground and I made some mistakes that would seem glaringly obvious to me now. I suggested we include an acknowledgement or welcome to country in our rituals, but I didn’t explain the difference between these two terms. A “welcome to country”, can only be given by a Traditional Owner of the country we are on, whereas an “Acknowledgement of Country” can be given by anyone. I also suggested we include this part of the ritual during the welcome to the ancestors of the land. I now understand the importance of making it the very first act of the ritual, before anything else is said. This is an example of what we say in our gatherings in Katoomba now:
“We stand today on Dharug and Gundungarra land. Land that was never ceded. We acknowledge the Dharug and Gundungarra people as the traditional owners of the land and recognise their deep and abiding connection to the land, the waters and the skies; to the plants, animals, landforms, sacred sites and seasons. We acknowledge the sadness and suffering that has occurred here and express our sincere hope for reconciliation, for healing, and for the continued strength of the Dharug and Gundungarra people. We pay our resects to the Elders past and present, and extend that respect to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here today.”
In the last few years, it has become common practice in most Druidry circles in Australia to include an acknowledgment of country like this at the beginning of our rituals. Know the name of the country you are on. Make giving an acknowledgement of Country a priority in your rituals, and we will all be doing a bit better. If you are interested in learning more about the difference between an Acknowledgement of Country and a Welcome to Country, or would like to find out how to contact a Traditional Owner to perform a Welcome to Country for your community event, the following link provides good information:
Taking time to learn about our local Indigenous community and how we can give a heartfelt acknowledgement of country in our rituals is of course just one way that we can do better. To learn more, I encourage you to learn about the history and community where you live. One of the best ways to do this is to support your local land council or Aboriginal community centre and the events that they put on to help the wider community learn about Aboriginal culture. Turn up. Listen for what is important to them and through that, learn about the places, people and history, the pain and suffering in battles or loss of connection to land, the families of the area and their stories, the strength of culture to continue and survive, and how we can all continue to try to do better with this every day.