Former President Barack Obama is in Australia this week for his leadership speaking tour, but organizers for the event have apologized after a First Nations elder was removed from performing in the Welcome to Country ceremony in Melbourne.
Sky News is reporting that Aunty Joy Murphy was originally asked to perform in the Welcome to Country ceremony at “An Evening with Barack Obama” on March 29, but she was reportedly deemed “too difficult” by the event’s organizers.
Murphy was supposed to deliver a customary gum leaf to the former president at the ceremony but requested a support person to assist her “weeks in advance” and was dropped from the event.
“I am 78 years of age. I have never been treated or spoken to in this way in the past,” Murphy said. “I do not want this to be a reflection on President Obama. I am a leader of the Wurundjeri Nation. I asked to be treated as an equal. I have been shocked and distressed by the way I have been treated by event organizers. They have always shown me respect and accepted my Welcome as a gift from our people.”
“The Welcome to Country is a very important ceremony for our people. It is an honor to Welcome people like President Obama, and I upset that I am unable to do this today,” Murphy concluded.
Donald Betts, the CEO of the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation, accused Growth Faculty of being culturally insensitive for canceling Aunty Joy.
“She really wanted to welcome [former president Obama] home and let him know that he’s on land that the Wurundjeri people are custodians of and First Nations custodians are responsible for all people on their land,” he said.
Organizers of Growth Faculty later apologized to the Wurundjeri elder and invited her to perform at the Melbourne Convention Centre on Thursday for Obama’s business lunch instead.
“Growth Faculty has apologized to Aunty Joy that last night’s ceremony could not be changed,” read the statement. “Due to security requirements, the organization was unable to accommodate last-minute changes to the agreed upon ceremony.”
Murphy accepted the invitation and noted that she was happy that her heritage is being recognized.
“Although it saddens me to think that I had to go through the events of yesterday, I’m happy that Aboriginal culture has been given appropriate recognition,” said Murphy. “It will be my great pleasure to welcome the first Black American president to Wurundjeri Country on behalf of my community and Ancestors.”
Murphy also said that she hopes to achieve healing and change for indigenous people around the world. “I will stand strong and tall for First Nations people across the Country and the world. We exist because of our shared resistance through a very difficult struggle,” she continued. “I hope that this meeting with Obama helps to achieve healing and change.”
Several people responded to Obama’s Australian tour on social media. One person replied on Twitter, “In a racist society like Australia anything seems to be possible.”
The 44th US president’s Australian leadership tour includes Obama discussing his thoughts on the world’s future and the political climate with Russia, Ukraine and China. The sold-out tickets ranged from $195 to $895 for premium tickets.
Obama’s visit also seems to be striking the wrong chord with the conservatives in the country. One Donald Trump enthusiast complained about the former president’s security while he visits the country.
“Heavy police presence as Former US President Obama arrived in Australia this evening,” wrote Thatcher. “Who is paying for his police escorts while he is in Sydney and Melbourne for speaking events? It wouldn’t happen to be Australian taxpayers, would it?”
Obama was also heckled by Trump supporters down under.
Obama was also criticized because his Australian tour is expected to earn the former president a substantial amount. According to Sky News, Obama is expected to make approximately $1.8 million on the tour.