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Obama event organisers apologise to Wurundjeri Elder following removal

Emma Ruben -

The organisers of former US President Obama's speaking event in Naarm (Melbourne) have apologised to the Traditional People and to Aunty Joy Murphy after they removed her from several event proceedings this week.

Elder and Traditional Owner Aunty Joy Murphy was invited to Welcome former US President Obama to Country on Wurundjeri land.

However, when she requested appropriate accommodations be made for a support person to attend alongside her and requested to provide Mr Obama a gift in line with cultural practice, she was removed from the event after being told she was too difficult.

Aunty Joy was also removed from performing traditional cultural protocols at a business lunch with Mr Obama Thursday.

The event organisers, Growth Faculty, have since apologised to Aunty Joy and invited her to perform the Welcome to Country at the business lunch taking place in Naarm.

"Growth Faculty had been working with Aunty Joy and the Wurundjeri community for many weeks ahead of last night's event," the statement read.

"Due to security requirements, the organisation was unable to accommodate last minute changes to the agreed upon ceremony.

"Growth Faculty has apologised to Aunty Joy that last night's ceremony could not be changed. Aunty Joy has accepted Growth Faculty's invitation to perform Welcome to Country at a business lunch taking place in Melbourne today."

The Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation said they were pleased Aunty Joy had been reinstated to perform the Welcome to Country at the lunch event Thursday.

They note Aunty Joy had requested weeks prior to bring a support person and to present Mr Obama with a gift in line with Wurundjeri custom and culture.

Aunty Joy said while it has been a difficult day, she is pleased to welcome the first Black American president to Wurundjeri Country.

"The organisers rang and apologised and re-invited me to perform a Welcome today. I have accepted their apology and will receive President Obama on behalf of my people," Aunty Joy said in a statement.

"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.

"It will be my great pleasure to welcome the first Black American president to Wurundjeri Country on behalf of my community and Ancestors."

Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation acting executive officer Donald Betts, a former Kansas senator, said it was important to consider how a meaningful two-way relationship with First Nations people should work.

"Wurundjeri Elders are very generous with their time and share their culture with the community to ensure dignitaries and events are safe and follow the appropriate protocols," Mr Betts said.

"This should be a reciprocal relationship, not a box to tick.

"This years' NAIDOC theme is Year of the Elder. When an Elder goes out of their way to welcome people to their Country they should be respected and honoured for that gift, not seen as 'too difficult' and 'something to work around'."

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