Wurundjeri senior Elder and Traditional Owner Aunty Joy Murphy has accepted a personal apology from Sydney-based event organising company Growth Faculty, after they ejected her from an event featuring Barack Obama on Wednesday, before she could perform a Welcome to Country.

Aunty Joy had requested weeks in advance to bring a support person along to the Melbourne event, and to present the former U.S. President with the gift of a gum leaf as is custom in Wurundjeri culture, but she was instead removed from proceedings for being “too difficult”.

Growth Faculty blamed “security reasons” for the last-minute change and have since apologised to Aunty Joy and re-invited her to perform a Welcome to Country at Obama’s business lunch on Thursday.

In a statement ahead of the event, Aunty Joy 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.

“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. I hope that this meeting with Obama helps to achieve healing and change.”

Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation CEO Donald Betts thanked the public for their support of Aunty Joy but said it was a reminder to engage in a genuine and meaningful two-way relationship with First Nations people.

“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. This should be a reciprocal relationship, not a box to tick,” Betts said.

“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.”

Listen to the interview with CEO Donald Betts: