Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander


The SSTUWA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Committee (ATSIEC) provides advice to the union Executive on Indigenous education issues that affect teachers and administrators in schools and education offices in WA government schools.

Nominations for the committee are called for in January. Click here for further information.

Welcome to Country

Acknowledgement of Country and Welcome to Country

The SSTUWA proposes that at the commencement of meetings there be an Acknowledgement of the Traditional Custodians of the Country in which the meeting is being held. Union members are encouraged to use this Acknowledgement of Country at the beginning of all meetings in schools and TAFE colleges.

The SSTUWA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Committee feels this is important and should be an integral part of promoting the reconciliation process. This document is meant to be a guide to those who wish to Acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Country.

Why do we do it?
The process of Acknowledgement of Country and Welcome to Country recognises the unique position of Aboriginal people in Australian culture and history.
Aboriginal people are the original owners of the land and it is important this unique position is recognised and incorporated into official protocol to enable the wider community to share in Aboriginal culture and facilitate better relationships between Aboriginal people and the wider community.

Official events and ceremonies engage the attention of participants and observers. Incorporating Aboriginal ceremonies into official events provides the opportunity to recognise and pay respect to Aboriginal people’s culture and heritage. It also communicates to the broader community the cultural heritage of Aboriginal people and helps to promote development of mutual respect and understanding.

How do we do it?
The type of ceremony performed should be appropriate to the nature and size of the event. When planning an event you should consult with Aboriginal staff within your school or workplace or District Office Support Staff to provide advice on:
• the appropriate level of Aboriginal recognition;
• the appropriate ceremonies and performances; and
• a community representative who should be contacted. Two ceremonies can be performed.
• Acknowledgement of Country for non-Aboriginal people
• Welcome to Country by local Aboriginal people of that land

Acknowledgement of Country
As a minimum requirement an Acknowledgement of Country ceremony should be undertaken. An Acknowledgement of Country is a way that non-Aboriginal people can show respect for Aboriginal heritage and the ongoing relationship of the Traditional Owners of the area with the land.

A Chair or Speaker begins the meeting by acknowledging that the meeting is taking place in the country of the Traditional Owners. Those who Acknowledge the Country can Acknowledge all the Traditional Owners of the land or can Acknowledge the Traditional Owners of this land without naming those people. Acknowledging Country this way will not cause offence where there is some potential of actual dispute around ownership.

The Local Aboriginal Land Council as well as the Department of Indigenous Affairs can provide advice as to who are the Traditional owners of the specific country.

An example of Acknowledgement of Country could be:

• I would like to show my respect and acknowledge the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the land on which this meeting takes place.
• I would like to respectfully acknowledge the ______________________ people who are the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the land on which we stand.

Welcome to Country
The Welcome to Country ceremony should be undertaken by the local Traditional Owners of the land (usually a senior representative of the local Aboriginal community) however, this is dependent upon the location of the event and the practice of the community. Steps should be taken to ensure that the appropriate Aboriginal representative is invited to undertake the ceremony. The local Aboriginal Land Council and the Department of Indigenous Affairs Office are key contacts for representatives who can undertake a Welcome to Country.

There is no exact wording when Welcoming to Country. As such, the content of the Welcome to Country Ceremony should be negotiated between the schools or workplace and the Aboriginal representative with reference to the nature of the event and community practices. However, representatives will generally provide the participants with information about Aboriginal history and will go on to welcome those present to the country.

SSTUWA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Committee (The assistance of the New South Wales Teachers Federation is acknowledged in the drafting of this document) November 2003.

Days of Significance

Days Of Significance

    13 February – Anniversary of the Apology
    13 February marks the anniversary of the formal apology made on 13 February 2008 by the government and the Parliament of Australia to the country’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people - in particular to the Stolen Generations.

    26 May - National Sorry Day
    National Sorry Day offers the community the opportunity to acknowledge the impact of the policies of forcible removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, which originated in the 1800s. The first National Sorry Day was held on 26 May 1998 following the 1997 HREOC Bringing Them Home report which recommended that a national day of observance be declared. It is now commemorated nationally with thousands of Australians from all walks of life participating in memorial services, commemorative meetings, survival celebrations and community gatherings to honour the Stolen Generations.

    For further information on National Sorry Day, please visit the National Sorry Day Committee site: http://www.nsdc.org.au/

    27 May to 3 June - National Reconciliation Week
    National Reconciliation Week was initiated in 1996 to provide a special focus for nationwide activities. The week is a time to reflect on achievements so far and to consider what must still be done to achieve reconciliation.

    National Reconciliation Week offers people across Australia the opportunity to focus on reconciliation, to hear about the cultures and histories of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and to explore new and better ways of meeting challenges in our communities.

    The Week is timed to coincide with two significant dates in Australia’s history, which provide strong symbols of our hopes and aims for reconciliation: 27 May and 3 June.

    For further information on National Reconciliation Week, you can visit the Reconciliation Australia website: www.reconciliation.org.au or the website for the relevant Reconciliation body in your state or territory.

    27 May - 1967 Referendum
    In 1967 over 90% of Australians voted in a Referendum to remove clauses from the Australian Constitution which discriminated against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. The Referendum also gave the Commonwealth Government the power to make laws on behalf of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

    3 June - Mabo Day
    Mabo Day marks the anniversary of the High Court of Australia’s judgement in 1992 in the Mabo case. This is a day of particular significance for Torres Strait Islander Australians.

    Eddie ‘Koiki’ Mabo’s name is synonymous with native title rights. His story began in May 1982 when he and fellow Murray (Mer) Islanders David Passi, Sam Passi, James Rice and CeluiaSalee instituted a claim in the High Court for native title to the Murray (Mer) Islands in the Torres Strait.

    The claim was made against the State of Queensland, which responded by seeking to legislate to extinguish retrospectively any native title on the Islands. This was challenged in the High Court on the grounds that it was inconsistent with the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act. The High Court, in an historical judgement delivered on 3 June 1992, accepted the claim by Eddie Mabo and the other claimants that their people (the Meriam people) had occupied the Islands of Mer for hundreds of years before the arrival of the British. The High Court found that the Meriam people were ‘entitled as against the whole world to possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of lands in the Murray Islands.’ The decision overturned a legal fiction that Australia was terra nullius (a land belonging to no one) at the time of British colonisation.

    1 July - Coming of the Light
    This is a particular day of significance for Torres Strait Islander Australians. It marks the day the London Missionary Society first arrived in the Torres Strait. The missionaries landed at Erub Island on 1 July 1871.

    Religious and cultural ceremonies are held by Torres Strait Islander Christians across the Torres Strait and on the mainland to commemorate this day.

    National NAIDOC Week - July
    NAIDOC Week is observed from the first Sunday in July to the second Sunday in July each year.

    NAIDOC celebrations are held around Australia to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

    The week is celebrated not just in the Indigenous community, but also increasingly in government agencies, schools, local councils and workplaces.

    Wherever you live, taking part in NAIDOC Week is a great way to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to build bridges between all Australians.

    NAIDOC originally stood for ‘National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee’. This committee was once responsible for organising national activities during NAIDOC Week, and its acronym has become the name of the week itself.

    For further information on NAIDOC, please visit the website www.naidoc.org.au


    • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Committee nominations
    • ATSI News
    • EOI - ACTU Indigenous Leadership Program - April 2018
    • Expressions of Interest: World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education
    • SSTUWA Reconciliation Action Plan endorsed
    • Reconciliation in Action Award Nomination Form 2019