Recognise and respect Traditional Owners

Why is this important?

Traditional Owners are Aboriginal people who have ongoing traditional and cultural connections to country.

Aboriginal people in Victoria were dispossessed of their traditional lands and often forced off their country onto missions and reserves following European settlement of Victoria. Many Aboriginal people do not live on their traditional lands today, however that does not diminish the rights or responsibilities of Traditional Owners to their country.

Traditional Owners have unique rights to their country and in some cases statutory authority in relation to land and natural resource management and heritage, stemming from Native Title and cultural heritage legislation.

Some Traditional Owner groups have been appointed as Registered Aboriginal Parties by the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council.  Registered Aboriginal Parties have specific legal responsibilities to protect and manage cultural heritage under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 (Read more – link to Aboriginal Victoria’s website).

Some Traditional Owner groups have negotiated Native Title Agreements with State and Federal Governments, giving them a unique but limited set of rights on their Country. The Victorian Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 is the legislation now used to negotiate Agreements between Victorian Traditional Owner groups and the State Government.

There are important customs and protocols that should be observed to show respect for Traditional Owners and their country. These include Acknowledgement of Country and Welcome to Country.


What can your council do? 

Councils can recognise and respect Traditional Owners in a number of ways:

  • Develop protocols for Acknowledgement of Country and Welcome to Country in partnership with the Traditional Owners (Read more – link to Aboriginal Victoria’s website)
  • Invite Traditional Owners to attend official functions and participate in council activities and events
  • Promote respect and recognition of Traditional Owners through acknowledgement on municipal signs and on/in council buildings
  • Include Traditional Owners in decision making processes that impact on land and natural resource management
  • Include Traditional Owners in the provision of Aboriginal cultural awareness training
  • Formalise council’s relationship with Traditional Owners through an Agreement, Memorandum of Understanding, protocol or similar.

Welcome to Country is a ceremony performed by Traditional Owners to formally welcome people to their land. These ceremonies are often performed at important public events, where the event organisers will invite an Elder representing the Traditional Owner group to perform the ceremony to open their event.

A Welcome to Country is sometimes accompanied by a Smoking Ceremony, whereby guests walk through the smoke of smouldering gum leaves as a cleansing ritual.

Uncle Ron

An Acknowledgement of Country can be performed by any person, and is often done by the first speaker at a gathering as part of the opening of the meeting or event.

An Acknowledgement of Country involves paying respects to Traditional Owners of the land and Elders. This can occur with or without a Welcome to Country.

To find out more about these protocols click here.

wurundjeri placque

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