People Aren’t Buying Rio Tinto’s Half-Assed Apology For Blowing Up A Sacred Indigenous Site

"The words count for very little when their actions are so destructive and devastating."

juukan gorge

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Last week, mining giant Rio Tinto blew up a 46,000 year old sacred Indigenous site.

The huge loss of history and culture has understandably outraged and devastated people in equal measure — none more so than the traditional owners, who had fought to stop the site being destroyed.

The icing on the cake? The sacred site was destroyed the weekend before Reconciliation Week.

Last week the mining company tried to shake off their responsibility by claiming the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura traditional owners had not made their concerns clear during years of consultation.

But the PKKP Aboriginal Council called that an “outrageous statement” designed to minimise community outrage.

The huge backlash prompted Rio Tinto to issue a statement apologising for the “distress” caused — but they’re having a very hard time convincing people they actually give a shit.

The cave, in Western Australia’s Juukan Gorge, was the only inland site in Australia showing signs of continual human occupation through the last Ice Age. Now it’s gone.

Rio Tinto received ministerial consent to destroy the site way back in 2013 under Aboriginal heritage laws.

A year later, an archeological dig uncovered thousands of artefacts. A 4,000 year old section of plaited hair, 40,000 year old grid stones and bones that showed changes in fauna were some of the items uncovered.

The dig also discovered the site was twice as old as previously thought.

Considering Rio Tinto had this information and were fully aware of how important the site was, people are sceptical about how genuine their apology is.

After the archeological discoveries the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) Aboriginal Corporation say they met with Rio Tinto to try and convince them not to blow up the site.

However, the heritage laws (which were drafted in the 70s to favour mining interests) do not allow for a consent to be renegotiated on the basis of new information.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt has since confirmed he was approached by the PKKP Aboriginal Council, who tried to get him to step in and stop the blast days before it happened.

Rio Tinto say they will  now review their plans on all other sites in the Juukan Gorge area “as a matter of urgency”.

In a statement their chief executive Chris Salisbury said they were sorry for “the distress we have caused”.

“From a broader perspective, as we already work within all existing frameworks, we will launch a comprehensive review of our heritage approach, engaging Traditional Owners to help identify, understand and recommend ways to improve the process,” he said.

“Three decades ago we were the first mining company to recognise native title. Today we also recognise that a review is needed in relation to the management of heritage in Western Australia more broadly, and we will advocate where relevant for legislative reform.

“The mining industry supports all Australians by providing jobs, supporting small business, and paying taxes and royalties. We remain committed to doing so in a way that provides economic development opportunities and facilitates the preservation and sharing of traditional culture.

“As a company with strong ties and a long history of partnership with Indigenous Australians we are committed to updating our practices and working together so that we can co-exist for mutual benefit.”

The Aboriginal Heritage Act has been up for review since 2012. A draft bill to amend the Act — which will provide options to appeal or amend consent — was pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Feature Image: Puutu Kunti Kurrama And Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation