MORE than 230 people have participated in a virtual smoking ceremony to recognise the start of National Reconciliation Week 2020.
Dja Dja Wurrung Elder Uncle Rick Nelson led the ceremony - which was organised by Aboriginal service Nalderun - via a Zoom conference call on Wednesday morning.
The hundreds who joined the meeting were also encouraged to light their own fires to participate in the ceremony.
"Because of COVID-19 and the lockdown, we couldn't do it like we normally would in the community," Uncle Rick said.
"We thought the best way we could do it was online. We knew some of the Aboriginal community would be involved but we didn't think it would be 230 people."
National Reconciliation Week was launched on Wednesday and will run through to June 3.
The annual event is an opportunity for non-Indigenous people to learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and histories.
Bendigo and District Aboriginal Co-operative's Camilo Demarco said the smoking ceremony was of particular importance this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"In isolation, everyone is really familiar with their couch and their living room, but not necessarily with their country," he said. "We thought this would be a good way for people to connect with country.
"So many people are isolated and it's a difficult time for people. The smoking ceremony is about wellbeing and cleansing."
The theme for this year's National Reconciliation Weeks is, 'In this together'.
Uncle Rick said it was great that non-Indigenous people were getting involved and educated.
"At the actual smoking ceremony, we had half a dozen people of different cultures and a few from different Aboriginal Nations," he said.
"We were looking for that 'in this together' theme and we were hoping the general community would join in."
Uncle Rick said Nalderun would look to facilitate similar virtual ceremonies in the future.
Mr Demarco said it would be great if became a national event.
"We would like to see more mobs around the country join us," he said. "That would be really powerful."
More information about National Reconciliation Week events in the region can be found here.
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