Controversy shook Barack Obama‘s lucrative speaking tour in Australia when an Aboriginal woman got dropped from a ceremony in Melbourne featuring the former president.
A Wurundjeri elder known as Aunty Joy Murphy said she is “shocked and distressed” after the organizer of the event removed her from the program Wednesday night at John Cain Arena.
“I am 78 years of age. I have never been treated or spoken to in this way in the past,” she said, according to the National Indigenous Times.
“I do not want this to be a reflection on President Obama,” she added. “I am a leader of the Wurundjeri Nation. I asked to be treated as an equal.”
The report said Murphy had requested accommodations for a support person and to give Obama a gift in accordance with the cultural practice.
For years, Murphy has been performing the traditional “Welcome to Wurundjeri Land” for visiting leaders. Among those people she has reportedly greeted include the late Queen Elizabeth II, the Dalai Lama, and South Africa’s Nelson Mandela.
Videos posted to social media show Murphy at sporting events and elsewhere conducting the “Welcome To Country” in which she accepts a leaf of the Manna Gum plant, also known as Eucalyptus viminalis, on behalf of the visitors.
Wurundjeri Elder Aunty Joy Murphy conducts the Welcome To Country, wishing both the @Socceroos & Ecuador the best of luck tonight. @FEFecuador
Watch Australia Vs Ecuador, Live and Free on 10 Bold & 10 Play!! #AUSvECU #Socceroos pic.twitter.com/WPuPoyADto
— 10 Football (@10FootballAU) March 28, 2023
In the case of Obama’s event, representatives for Murphy claimed the elder was told she was being “too difficult” before being removed from the ceremony, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.
The organizer of Obama’s speaking tour, Growth Factory, claimed to have apologized to Murphy for cancelling her appearance.
“Growth Faculty had been working with Aunty Joy and the Wurundjeri community for many weeks ahead of last night’s event,” a spokesperson said in a statement reported by The Guardian.
“Due to security requirements, the organisation was unable to accommodate last minute changes to the agreed upon ceremony,” the statement added. “Growth Faculty has apologised to Aunty Joy that last night’s ceremony could not be changed.”
Wurundjeri-Willam woman Mandy Nicholson reportedly delivered the Welcome to Country in place of Murphy.
During Obama’s speaking tour through Australia, which reportedly could net him upwards of $1 million, the former president has been talking about a variety of topics including politics, foreign policy, and technology.