Acknowledging Country with Tiriki Onus

It’s my firm belief that the stories and history of this country are something in which we can all take pride. Pride in the fact that our own stories are now inextricably linked to this place, simply by us being here and living our lives on this land.

- Tiriki Onus

As University of Melbourne students and staff continue to work from home all over the country, and in fact the world, acknowledging the traditional owners upon whose land we live, work and play is more important than ever. But how do we acknowledge Country in the digital realm?

We asked Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung artist, academic, and Head of the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development at the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music, Tiriki Onus, how one might meaningfully acknowledge Country in this new, adjusted mode of living.

His response is one of gratitude and hope and an invitation to create new and meaningful connections.

Read a full transcript of Tiriki’s thoughts below:

Hello, my name is Tiriki Onus and I am a Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung, artist, maker and academic. I have the honour of being the head of the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development. I’m speaking to you now from Kulin country. Country which has had song, dance, art and story poured into its very firmament since the beginning of all things.

Living and working as I do across Wurundjeri and Boonwurrung countries, I find myself constantly encouraged, constantly comforted, by the fact that I too am a visitor to this place. I’m encouraged by the welcome that I have received here. I have been supported on this country through the grace and generosity of traditional owners to make this my home.

Living as we currently are in this very digital and isolated world gives me pause to stop and think about what it means to acknowledge country in the digital space, when we are streaming our virtual selves out to friends and colleagues across vast distances, yet still we want to acknowledge our presence on Country in which sovereignty has never been ceded.

It’s my firm belief that the stories and history of this country are something in which we can all take pride. Pride in the fact that our own stories are now inextricably linked to this place, simply by us being here and living our lives on this land.

Several people have approached me recently and asked me what the best way of acknowledging country in this new digital space is and the honest answer is, I don’t know. But how often are we afforded a rare opportunity such as this? How often are we able to take the time to be still, to sit on Country and to take stock?

I’m not an authority by any means and I don’t pretend to speak for anyone other than myself, but the thought that we may be able to use this time to indulge ourselves and create a more meaningful connection to the place we live and use our skills and ingenuity to come up with even more profound and creative ways of acknowledging Country is an incredibly exciting prospect for me.

I think there’s always some fear of ‘getting it wrong’ when we find ourselves having to acknowledge Country for the first time and we often fall back onto reciting something by rote. There’s something to be said though, for us having the freedom to create something meaningful for ourselves and if it’s done with respect and sincerity, I fail to see how we could possibly go wrong. We’re afforded the opportunity to use our modern technology to reinforce connections and diplomacies between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Countries which have been maintained for millennia and to alter the way our society thinks about connecting across different nations within this continent.

I'm grateful for this time. I'm grateful to be able to take the time to stop, think about what my place in the world means and to continue to grow my connection to this country, the country on to which I've been welcomed. When we come back. And the smoking ceremonies resume, and the welcomes and the acknowledgements are being performed in person. I know that the connection I've cultivated with the country I stand on will be only the more meaningful. I'm excited. I'm excited by the stories that we share. I'm excited by the way that we can use our knowledges and the technology at hand to change the way we engage with place. I'm excited to hear what you're doing too, and I invite you to share your stories or experience of acknowledging Country in our current environment. I’m excited for the world that we're going to be able to create on the other side.

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