Acknowledgement of Country – more than just an announcement!

Acknowledgement of Country – more than just an announcement!
Acknowledgement of Country – more than just an announcement!
Written by CTG Head of Impact, Lena-Jean Charles-Loffel
2020 IMP Squad Member

My Story

No matter where you are running in Australia, you are always running on Traditional Country that Always Was and Always Will Be Aboriginal Land. These lands hold the histories of Aboriginal people. They are entrenched with cultural knowledge and understandings.

When you attend a meeting or a function, you will most likely hear someone acknowledge the Traditional Country and pay the respects to Elders past present and emerging. These acknowledgements are not just announcements - they are important! Not only do they honour the legacy of Aboriginal people, but they also create a space for Aboriginal people to feel safe. I didn’t realise how much as a Yorta Yorta woman, I relied on an Acknowledgement of Country to make me feel welcomed to a space - until I had experienced events that didn’t have an Acknowledgement.

Three years ago, I made the brave decision to start running. I had watched my friend, Cinta take on the New York City Marathon as part of the Indigenous Marathon Project. Her journey was truly inspiring and I saw some hope for changing my health and lifestyle in her achievements.

Photo 1: Me running and getting a new PB at Darebin parkrun

My first parkrun

I googled ways to start running and stumbled upon parkrun. A free 5km event that happens every Saturday morning in locations across the world! Awesome!  I’d never ran more than 1km, so I didn’t know what to expect?!

I was anxious holding my freshly printed barcode heading to parkrun Shepparton. Despite growing up in this town my entire life, I looked around and knew no one. I felt nervous. Whilst the announcements were happening, I was gathering as much positivity as I could to start my first 5km run.

All in all, I ended up being fine on the run and just took my time. I decided that day that I would attend a few more parkruns and continue to improve my running.

New experiences at parkrun

A few months later, I moved to Melbourne after landing a new job at the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service as a Health Promotion Officer. After settling in, I decided to try parkrun again. Most of the local Aboriginal Community in the Northern Suburbs of Melbourne mostly attended Darebin parkrun so I thought I’d try there. Not knowing the course, I was nervous all over again. I jumped out of my car and made my way to the meeting spot. As I approached, I noticed the giant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flag displayed. My mood was immediately lifted. I’m sure other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can relate to the sense of happiness and pride that beams through when you spot your flag flying somewhere. The announcements started. First announcement was an Acknowledgement of Wurundjeri Country that was extended to paying respects to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people participating in parkrun.

Photo 2: Me and my bestie, Bonnie after our run.

 

Photo 3: Celebrating completing 5km in front of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags at Darebin parkrun with other Aboriginal women in attendance.

I didn’t realise how much those Blak flags and the Acknowledgement of Country meant for my feelings of inclusion and cultural safety until I attended parkrun again back home in Shepp.  At Shepp parkrun, there were never any Blak flags displayed, or an Acknowledgement of Country ever made. I remember always looking around in hopes to spot another Aboriginal person. Which is interesting to think about considering Shepp has a huge Aboriginal population living there. One time I saw someone wearing an Aboriginal designed shirt. I immediately introduced myself and found familiarity and comfort knowing that they were a black fella too and I wasn’t so alone in a mainstream event anymore. This right here showed me the power and need in creating safe environments for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people so we increase participation together in more mainstream white events.

C’mon parkrun

It had me wondering why aren’t all parkruns making the effort to do an Acknowledgement of Country? There is approximately 380 parkruns across Australia. That’s 380 Traditional Countries that need to be acknowledged and celebrated. Afterall, you’re running on the Traditional Lands of Indigenous people. Shouldn’t everyone know the name and history of the land they are running on?

 

 Photo 4: Map of Aboriginal Australia displaying all the Traditional Countries and language groups

Whilst a few parkruns have made the effort to include an Acknowledgement of Country in which I am happy to have experienced, many still don’t. I think all parkruns need to have this included. There’s no reason why a meaningful Acknowledgement of Country can’t be included as a respectful protocol in announcements.

Why on traditional Earth would not you Acknowledge Country?!

There’s so much opportunity and potential in doing an Acknowledgement of Country at parkrun. Firstly, it allows people attending (especially people coming from other parts of Australia and the world) to learn about where they are running. It reminds everyone that they are on Aboriginal land. It gives the opportunity for people to connect to the country in a new way and create new things to reflect on in their running journey.  And most importantly it creates a space where other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can feel included and safe. I can’t help but wonder about the potential of having more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people participating and running on country by creating a space at parkrun that welcomes, respects and acknowledges the oldest living culture in the world.

Something to think about?

I’ve shared with you a glimpse into my experiences and thoughts of Acknowledging Country. And I thank you for taking the time to hear my story and understand my reflections. But now that’s enough about me, what about you?  I ask you to reflect and consider your thoughts on Acknowledging Traditional Country -  and if you’re a parkrunner what are you going to do to make your event culturally safe and inclusive?

If you’ve ever thought that an Acknowledgement of Country wasn’t so important. Or it’s okay not to have one, I challenge you to think again. Think about how an Acknowledgement of Country can create a sense of pride and inclusion for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. And not to mention, what this can mean for you and your own participation in parkrun.

Want to learn more about why Acknowledgement of Country is more than just an announcement and why it matters? Read this article by ABC News here

So, what now, what can I do?

I encourage you to support the need of having an Acknowledgement of Country at all parkruns across Australia.

To support you can:

  1. Stand beside us and sign our petition to get Acknowledgement of Country at all parkruns

Sign the petition here

 

 

  1. Bring attention and have conversations with people at your local parkrun. Including the event organisers and volunteers. Share why everyone has so much to gain by including an Acknowledgement of Country.
  1. Sign up to our Clothing The Gap ‘Connect to Country’ virtual run/walk event happening on 20-22 November 2020. There’s a distance for everybody! Use the event to continue learning about the Traditional Country you live and run on. For more information and to sign up click here
 

And last but definitely not least remember the Aboriginal people and their fight, the struggle, the determination, the resilience and the success. And most importantly remember that we are STILL here. We have survived alongside our land.

Always Was, Always Will Be, Aboriginal Land.

 

Photo 4: Response from Acknowledgement of Country at parkrun petition.


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