I’ve been conferencing now for close to 25 years and throughout that time, many, but not all events have begun with a Welcome to or Acknowledgment of Country. These are sometimes delivered by a leader of the organisation hosting the conference or meeting, the MC of the event or the opening speaker – and often by a local Aboriginal elder or representative of the local indigenous community.
It has saddened me how often the inclusion of a Welcome / Acknowledgment has either been forgotten, or if included it often feels so ‘procedural’ or that the conference is either ‘ticking the box’ because we are ‘meant’ to have one. Or despite huge efforts and all good intentions, the genuinely well intentioned conference organisers have been unable to make it something ‘special’. And unfortunately, many conference delegates are not really sure why we have these in the program, the real significance of them or what they are all about.
Having worked on countless conferences in New Zealand, I’ve always marvelled at how well their traditional Maori welcomes seem to be performed and received and yet here, across the ditch, the impact never seems to be as powerful.
Maybe I’ve been unlucky until now and have been missing some amazing renditions in Australia. But for the first time in my conference memory, in the December just passed I was privileged to have been co-MCing the Professional Conference Organisers Association (PCOA) Conference at the ICC in Sydney.
The conference set themselves the challenging theme of “Anything Is Possible” and absolutely nailed it with many innovative, creative and different ideas explored thematically, technically, visually etc. The conference commenced with a dynamic Acknowledgment to Country performed by “The KARI Singers,” a multi-talented group of young Indigenous performers, who sang beautifully, danced spectacularly, Acknowledged Country poignantly and then most importantly, delicately explained what and why this was being done.
It was so powerful, joyous, visually spectacular and moving that it became one of the genuine talking points and standouts at the conference, a conference that was not short on standout presentations and moments.
When was the last time you attended a conference when the indigenous Welcome / Acknowledgment was truly memorable, let alone a highlight?
While I am 100% sure that there have been other wonderful examples of this at other conferences and events, for me, it was a first and I’m hoping the first of many. Well done to the ICC Sydney, the PCO Association and to the incredible Kari Singer team. http://www.kari.org.au/