What is the significance of an Acknowledgment of Country for an organisation or gathering of people? Why is it important? Here AICD First Nations Sector Lead Justin Agale MAICD outlines what you need to know.
Acknowledging Country can help boards to enter the director mindset, and also act as a reminder of their duties and responsibilities. Acknowledging Country has been part of Australian stewardship for millennia. Country is a holistic term encompassing all that exists in a place, be it people, sky, land, water, flora and fauna. First Nations use the Acknowledgment as a reminder and affirmation of our duties and responsibilities in exercising our stewardship of Country. It is a contract that is binding to ensure we fulfil our responsibilities and duties and we consider how our actions will impact upon everything in our environment.
Welcome to Country by Justin Agale, (Presentation to Essential Director Update, Melbourne 2022)
We come here today as affiliates, members, graduates and fellows of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, an institute that has as its purpose to strengthen society through world-class governance.
So what is the place of an Acknowledgement of Country or a Welcome to Country in world-class governance?
As a child, I used to go turtle hunting with my father. He would make me stand on the sides of the rockpool until I had permission to dive into the water. I had to introduce myself. I had to say what my intention was for being there. I had to enter into a social contract with the sea before I was allowed to go hunting.
I had to have permission from Country. Country is not just the land. It is the people. It is the water, the trees, the sky, the animals, everything that resides within that place. So when we move from one place to another, we stop.
We embrace stillness and quietness. To be in that moment, to acknowledge where we are, to acknowledge why we are there. So as we enter this room today, we acknowledge that we're in this room in this moment to serve a purpose of this institute: To strengthen society through world-class governance. When we acknowledge Country, we are reaching back and bringing to the fore 60,000 years of Australian governance. Sixty thousand years of environmental responsibility, 60,000 years of social responsibility. Sixty thousand years of stewardship.
We understand how our actions will impact Country. When we do a risk assessment, we don't just look at people and how our actions will impact those people, but at how our actions will impact the water. What are the duties and responsibilities we have to a river? What are the duties and responsibilities that that river has to everything that lives on it to ensure that it is watered?
What are the duties and responsibilities we have to trees, to animals?
So an Acknowledgement of Country is not something that is merely a tokenistic gesture that we say yes, we did our part and then ignore. It is a contract that is binding to ensure we fulfil our responsibilities and duties and consider how our actions will impact upon everyone in our environment.
So today, I would encourage you to be here in this moment, keeping in mind that our purpose is to strengthen society through world-class governance. To consider that the Welcome to Country that Uncle Tony will give us is not simply a tokenistic gesture, but as part of this, this Country's[JG1] governance systems that have existed for 60,000 years and will continue to exist for another 60,000 years, because they are responsibilities of stewards of Country that have not ended.
So as I stood at the edge of the rockpool, waiting to go hunting turtles with my father, I introduced myself. My name is Justin Agale. I belong to the Kariyarra people from the Pilbara in Western Australia. I am a Meriam man and I follow the laws of Malo when he says Malo tag mauki mauki Malo teter mauki mauki. And when we say Malo tag mauki mauki Malo teter mauki mauki, my hand will not reach for anything on Country that does not belong to me and that I do not have a right to. And my foot will not go towards any action or cause more injury to Country that I do not have a right to go towards. And I will fulfil my responsibilities to this Country and to the people.
And when we say this we are not talking about a physical arm, but about what is in the heart, because that's what drives our actions. A hand does not think for itself. It is merely a tool that we use.
Our feet do not take us somewhere without our intention first being formed.
Please keep that in mind. Be in this moment. Understand how we can impact society and strengthen society through world class governance. I'd now like to ask Uncle Tony through his kindness and generosity, to welcome us to Country. Thank you.
MORE ABOUT JUSTIN AGALE MAICD
Appointed to the AICD in January 2022, Agale has more than 15 years’ experience in helping to drive change and create a positive framework to address governance, risk, non-compliance and strengthening controls. He has a wide knowledge of First Nations sector operations, organisational systems, the machinery of government, and issues facing the First Nations, public/private/NFP sector interface and commercial practices. This includes 10 years’ experience with the NSW Aboriginal land rights network, developing the NSW Aboriginal Land Council’s governance systems and over nine years’ experience with the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), leading corruption prevention analysis in investigations.
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