Thursday, July 29, 2021

The official student newspaper of Methodist Ladies' College, est. 2020

Rio Tinto destroys Juukan Gorge in Pilbara

By Alice Caldwell

On the 24th of May, 2020, two culturally and archaeologically significant rock shelters in the Pilbara region of Western Australia were blown up by mining giant Rio Tinto.

In a statement released on their website Rio Tinto has ‘unreservedly apologised’ and expressed a commitment to future ‘listening, learning and changing.’[1]

Indigenous elders from the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura indigenous group, the Native title owners of the land of Rio Tinto’s Brockman-4 multi-billion dollar mine, have expressed deep dismay at the loss of the site. In a 2015 research project funded by Rio Tinto, the gorges were found to hold 4,000 year old artefacts such as stone tools and hair belts, as well as fauna dating back 46,000 years[2].

Legislative and structural problems continue to prevent truly equitable relationships between Native Title owners and those wishing to mine their land. In Western Australian, section 18 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act facilitates appeals to native title claims. Of 463 requests, 0 have been denied[3]. Once permission is granted, native title owners cannot appeal the decision.

In 2017, Rio Tinto and BHP endorsed the Uluru Statement of the Heart[4], a move directly opposing the coalition government’s stance. However, many efforts from mining giants to improve relations with native owners are dismissed as tokenistic and not supported by significant action.

As people concerned for the environment, it is important that we continue considering and advocating for climate justice – the protection of indigenous cultures and the promotion of indigenous voices, particularly regarding land management.

[1]     “Our Apology,” Riotinto.com, accessed 23rd August, 2020. https://www.riotinto.com/news/inquiry-into-juukan-gorge?gclid=Cj0KCQjwhIP6BRCMARIsALu9LfkSo4Jkp5hifSbqWNjg1CWL83v3Qj5lU_8qlU9O4zWRiRh3KFDQvFYaAowCEALw_wcB.

[2]     Calla Wahlquist, “Juukan Gorge: Rio Tinto blasting of Aboriginal site prompts calls to change antiquated laws,” The Guardian Australia, May 30, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/may/30/juukan-gorge-rio-tinto-blasting-of-aboriginal-site-prompts-calls-to-change-antiquated-laws

[3]     “Rio Tinto admits it had other options for the Juukan Gorge site,” The Australian¸ August 5, 2020, https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/rio-tinto-admits-it-had-other-options-for-juukan-gorge-site/news-story/952f64bbf6ed820da9db55140f2afa6a#:~:text=Rock%20shelters%20in%20Juukan%20Gorge,region%2C%20before%20they%20were%20destroyed.

[4]     “BHP and Rio Tinto endorse Uluru Statement from the Heart,” Bhp.com, last updated January 31, 2019, https://www.bhp.com/media-and-insights/news-releases/2019/01/bhp-and-rio-tinto-endorse-uluru-statement-from-the-heart/.

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