Obama's Lucrative Speaking Tour Causes 'Deep Offense' by Axing Indigenous Elder at the Last Minute
The Australian indigenous community expressed “deep offense” over an incident Wednesday involving former President Barack Obama’s visit to the country.
Aunty Joy Murphy, a Wurundjeri elder, had been scheduled to give a traditional “Welcome to Country” at the sold-out event called “A Night with Barack Obama” in Melbourne, according to the Australian Broadcasting Company.
However, an organization called Growth Faculty, which hosted the event, “removed Aunty Joy from event proceedings amid claims she was being ‘too difficult.'”
Murphy had requested “appropriate accommodations for a support person” to accompany her to the event, and she had also asked “to provide Mr. Obama with a gift, as is cultural practice,” according to the report.
“She was told that she was being ‘too difficult’ and was removed from event proceedings,” according to the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the action caused “deep offense to the Wurundjeri people and to all First Nations people.”
In a statement to the news outlet, Murphy said, “I am 78 years of age. I have never been treated or spoken to in this way in the past.
“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.”
The Growth Faculty organization later apologized and invited Murphy to give the welcome presentation at a business lunch with Obama on Thursday, the Herald reported.
“Growth Faculty has apologized to Aunty Joy that last night’s ceremony could not be changed,” the group said in a statement. “Due to security requirements, the organization was unable to accommodate last-minute changes to the agreed upon ceremony [on Wednesday].”
In spite of accepting the apology and invitation, Murphy told the Herald she was hurt by the incident.
“The organizers rang and apologized and re-invited me to perform a Welcome today. I have accepted their apology and will receive President Obama on behalf of my people,” she said.
“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.”
According to the ABC, “Welcome to Countries are part of traditional Wurundjeri law passed down for generations and are considered a great sign of respect when they are performed.”
“Aunty Joy has welcomed guests to Wurundjeri land for more than 40 years, providing safe passage to several high-profile people, including Queen Elizabeth II, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama.”
The Herald said tickets to the luncheon cost up to 1,650 Australian dollars apiece — roughly $1,100 U.S. dollars.
Donald Betts, chief executive of the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation, also expressed disappointment over the perceived slight and said it showed the organizers were lacking a cultural protocol.
“For her [Murphy] to then be rejected, to say that she was too difficult for asking for, you know, minimum accommodations, I think that was a little culturally insensitive,” Betts said, according to the report.
He added that indigenous elders “shouldn’t be treated as tokenism.”
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