22 May, 2024
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Security concerns behind Obama welcome shake-up

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The organisers of a Barack Obama event in Melbourne say security concerns were behind the move to remove a senior Aboriginal elder from the program.

Senior Wurundjeri elder Aunty Joy Murphy was meant to perform the welcome to country at An Evening with President Obama at Melbourne’s John Cain Arena on Wednesday.

However, she was dumped with just a few hours notice, and told she was being “too difficult”, after asking organiser Growth Faculty to allow her to bring a support person, the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation said.

“She was told that she was being ‘too difficult’ and was removed from event proceedings,” the corporation said.

“This is a deep offence to the Wurundjeri people and to all First Nations people.

“Our Welcome to Country protocols are our traditional law and practice that have been used to welcome and offer protection to our guests on Wurundjeri lands for millennia.”

Aunty Joy had also requested permission to give the former US president a gift, in line with cultural practices.

“I have been shocked and distressed by the way I have been treated by event organisers,” Aunty Joy 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.”

Aunty Joy said she did not blame Mr Obama, but instead pointed the finger at Growth Faculty.

On Thursday, Growth Faculty said it had worked with Aunty Joy and the Wurundjeri community for weeks ahead of the event.

“Due to security requirements, the organisation was unable to accommodate last-minute changes to the agreed upon ceremony,” it said in a statement.

“Growth Faculty has apologised to Aunty Joy that last night’s ceremony could not be changed.”

The organisation said Aunty Joy had accepted an invitation to perform a welcome to country at a business lunch in Melbourne on Thursday.

Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Donald Betts accused Growth Faculty of cultural insensitivity for cancelling Aunty Joy’s appearance.

“She really wanted to welcome [Mr 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 told ABC Radio Melbourne.

“For her to then be rejected, to say that she was too difficult for asking for minimal accommodation, I think that was a little culturally insensitive.”

Wurundjeri-Willam woman Mandy Nicholson delivered the welcome to country at Mr Obama’s event on Wednesday night, alongside a performance by the Djirri-Djirri dancers.

– with AAP

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