Organisers of Western Australia's annual Diggers and Dealers mining conference have disappointed the Kalgoorlie Indigenous community, after deciding not to go ahead with a traditional Welcome to Country ceremony.
Local Elder, Trevor Donaldson was expected to perform the Welcome to Country at next week’s event, but organisers claimed the schedule was ‘too tight’. But Mr Donaldson says it’s disappointing to not recognise First Nations people.
“Us mob all over the country do it without any qualms, yet within our own area it’s an issue,” Mr Donaldson said.
“It’s disappointing that you have such a huge stake holder with so many guests and they can’t show any respect to acknowledge and recognise the First Nation people of their own country.”
“This was about asking the organisers to be more respectful to our country, especially our First Nation’s people, not just me but all those pushed on the backburner.”
More than two thousand people are expected to attend the three day conference in Kalgoorlie and Conference organiser and Diggers and Dealers director, John Langford said they couldn’t afford to get involved in ‘Indigenous politics’.
“Mr Donaldson uses the ceremony as an education program which is great, but it takes up to 30 minutes and we just don’t have that time available in our program,” he said.
“We’ve heard it may have been used as a platform to criticise the mining industry...”
This year they’ve decided to only do an acknowledgement as they didn’t want to be insensitive by replacing Mr Donaldson and will wait until 2018 to reintroduce the Welcome to Country.
Mr Donaldson says no one contacted him in regards to his performance, which would only take five minutes, not 30.
“Not one of the organisers has spoken to me in relation to this particular event, except for receiving a patronising and condescending email, so I don’t know where they got 30 minutes from.”
During his Welcome to Country ceremonies, the Kaalgoorlie Elder shows cultural appropriateness by incorporating dreamtime stories about the land, as well as historical connections and cultural connections.
“This was about asking the organisers to be more respectful to our country, especially our First Nation’s people, not just me but all those pushed to the back-burner.”
The local Custodian of Country says ‘we need blackfellas standing in this together.’
"I don’t have any problems with another Indigenous Elder doing the Welcome to Country, in fact that would actually have been fantastic to see – as long as it’s the right person, from the right language group, but they’ve just decided not to go ahead with it and that’s what’s disappointing."
Mayor John Bowler says he has seen Trevor’s Welcome to Country several times and that they are beautifully performed and take no longer than five minutes. He hopes that such a big conference can work together with the Indigenous community to better the community.
“The council has worked tirelessly with the Indigenous communities for the past 12 months. We’re doing a lot of work to benefit indigenous communities and sadly this could be a distraction to all of our hard work,” the Mayor said.
“It’s an important conference, we’re going to have world media there, but we want to make sure that we show not only mining people, but everyone, that we are a great city… so it would be good to facilitate both sides work with each other and recognise our local Indigenous Elders."