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Rio Tinto mining company destroyed many aboriginal sites in Australia – and intend to destroy more

The destruction of the Juukan Gorge heritage site drew a public outcry against iron ore miner Rio Tinto. Photo:ABCNews


Rio Tinto mining company destroyed many aboriginal sites in Australia – and intend to destroy more


By Patryk Krych | The World Daily | SEPTEMBER 21st 2020


The Riot Tinto mining company is said to be planning the destruction of 124 aboriginal sites, for the purpose of mineral collection. This comes closely following previous promises to never cause harm to aboriginal sites again.

On September 11, 2020, chief executive of the Rio Tinto mining company Jean-Sébastien Jacques had been forced to resign after reports came out of the company using explosives to harvest millions of dollars’ worth of high-grade iron ore in May – which happened to lay underneath a series of caves holding thousands of years’ worth of Australian indigenous people’s history: located in Juukan Gorge. The cultural sites were demolished, along with the history they held within.

After this pressing event, Rio Tinto’s chairman, Simon Thomson, stated that “What happened at Juukan was wrong,” and that nothing of this sort would ever happen again. Those promised words from Thomson seem empty now, after an inquiry revealed that the company fully intends to destroy yet another 124 Aboriginal heritage sites at the very least, in their plight for harvesting the iron ore within the country.

Rio Tinto have already gained approval to go ahead with the destruction of 26 of the 124 cultural heritage sites in range of the company’s Western Range deposit, under section 18 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act of 1972. The Yinhawangka Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) are going through the works of trying to prevent this destruction from occurring.

Permission had been given to the Rio Tinto company to mine beneath the aboriginal sites by the then WA Aboriginal affairs minister, Peter Collier, in 2013. The destruction of the ancient rock shelters took place on May 24, though the premier at the time, Colin Barnett, called for a gathering and discussion from the royal commission on the matter.

“There is a high likelihood that that recommendation to the minister was invalid,” said Robin Chapple, a WA Greens MP, to a joint standing committee on Northern Australia over a telephone hearing on Monday, supervised by the chair of the committee, one committee member, and three ex-officio members. “And the reason for that is the act specifies that only two members of that committee can be ex-officio when it comes to a quorum of five.”

What this means, is that the traditional owners of the Juukan Gorge (the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) people) would be liable to demand compensation from the state, on account of the permitted destruction. It’s been confirmed that the PKKP are in the midst of talks with the Rio Tinto company is it is, discussing compensation and the halting of further destruction towards any other of their culturally significant sites.

The chief executive officer of the Australian Football League (AFL), Gillon McLachlan, has also come under some scrutiny following a pledge to “fight all forms of racism and discrimination on and off the field.” This pledge too, has been labelled a lie by some critics, due to the AFL’s continued partnership with the Rio Tinto company, despite their financially driven actions against the country’s aboriginals.

Other organisations, however, have put Rio Tinto under harsher scrutiny. Endorsement of the company was withdrawn by Reconciliation Australia, who have removed it from a Reconciliation Action Plan program. More recently, HESTA, an Australian industry superannuation fund for workers in health and community service sectors, stated that an “independent inquiry needs to investigate all of Rio’s agreements.”

A federal parliamentary inquiry, launched on August 6 and still in the midst of investigations, has thus far discovered several pressing issues that sink Rio Tinto further into controversy. The inquiry discovered at least 7,000 different artefacts, each of their own cultural significance to the Australian aboriginals, stored in old shipping containers. Many of these artefacts exceed 46,000 years in terms of age, and all of them had been extracted from the Gorge for the sake of the mining operation.

The inquiry also found a distinct lack of responsibility coming from the directors of the company, who, instead attempting to put a stop to the wrongdoing before it could occur – had decided to take the time to surround themselves with lawyers, as well as teams to handle public relations (PR) for after the destructive mining operation took place.

“In the past, Indigenous people would have nobody to rely on in the case of vandalism like this,” said an Indigenous Australian lawyer and land rights activist, Noel Pearson. Today, however, many are outraged and demand that the Rio Tinto company stop their abuse of another culture’s history for the sake of profit.

A geologist, Cedric Davies, has a history himself, of having worked with both native title groups and mining companies in the Pilbara. One of these included Rio Tinto. He stated that that he “wasn’t shocked that Rio had obtained a section 18 consent; that kind of thing happens all the time. But I was shocked at the scale of the site that had been destroyed and I was shocked that it was Rio Tinto … they had so long been considered to be industry leaders and I couldn’t fathom what they were thinking.”

He explained that mining companies tended to receive more privileged response and permissions in Australia’s West, with especial bias towards indigenous groups, allowing actions that typically lead to the violation of their cultural sites. “The events at Juukan exposed Rio behaving like the East India Company mark 2,” he added. “Ruthless asset stripping and shipping the profits overseas.”

“If I ask for a map, if it’s for a mining company I usually get a map back within one or two days, with an apology if it’s later than that,” he described. “If I’m acting on behalf of an Indigenous group, it’s usually after follow-up emails weeks later.”

Tough financial penalties have been flagged by Western Australia, for their horrific treatment of aboriginal culture in favour of mining companies. As such, near the beginning of September, a new law had been drafted up – which would create changes to section 18, allowing traditional indigenous land owners to launch objections to the perversion of their lands, as well as introduce fines for “unauthorised” damages.

YAC chief executive Grant Bussell, however, said that he couldn’t imagine the new draft law helping them very much. “I don’t see a single thing that would stop Juukan from happening again,” he said. “This is Western Australia. The mining industry is powerful. It’s a very good force for the country and for WA but when you bring it up against Aboriginal people and this remarkable heritage we have … you guys know as well as I know who is going to come out on top.”

Those who care for the aboriginal culture in Australia, as well as its preservation, are doing what they can. The future of these sites, nevertheless, remains unclear for the time being, as their historical value continues to be violated.


By Patryk Krych | © The World Daily 2020