Politics

The CEO Of Rio Tinto Has Resigned After Backlash Over Blowing Up Juukan Gorge

The 46,000-year-old site was sacred to the traditional Aboriginal owners

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Remember the time that mining giant Rio Tinto blew up a 46,000-year-old sacred Aboriginal site in Western Australia, after ignoring Indigenous community leaders?

Well, Aboriginal groups do — and unfortunately for Rio Tinto’s CEO, so do shareholders. After a huge backlash they’ve forced him and two other senior executives to leave the company “by mutual agreement”.

The mining company blew up the  Juukan Gorge rockshelters, in WA’s Pilbara region, back in May (the weekend before Reconciliation Week, mind you). The site was the only inland spot in Australia showing signs of continual human occupation through the last Ice Age, and was home to thousands of ancient artefacts.

The incident caused a huge backlash from people devastated at the loss of history and culture, and as a result CEO Jean-Sébastien Jacques, iron ore chief executive Chris Salisbury and corporate relations boss Simone Niven will stand down. The decision comes after months of anger and sustained pressure from Aboriginal groups.

Last month the execs were stripped of $7 million in bonuses, but Rio chairman Simon Thompson said at the time no one would be stood down.

Now in a desperate attempt to salvage the Rio Tinto reputation the execs have finally been pushed out — with Thompson now saying individual accountability was needed to rebuild trust with the Aboriginal community.

“What happened at Juukan was wrong,” he said in a statement.

“We are determined to ensure the destruction of a heritage site of such exceptional archaeological and cultural significance never occurs again at a Rio Tinto operation.”

“We have listened to our stakeholders’ concerns that a lack of individual accountability undermines the Groups’s ability to build that trust (with the traditional owners) and to move forward to implement the changes identified in the Board Review.”

Rio Tinto had approval for the blast, but after an archaeological dig determined it was more significant than previously thought the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura traditional owners tried to convince them not to go ahead with the blast. You can read more about that here.

Rio Tinto has publicly apologised, but claimed they believed they had consent from the traditional owners until it was too late to stop the blast safely. However, we now know that Rio Tinto received the archaeologist’s report in December 2018 — more than 16 months before the blast.

Federal politicians were due to visit the site as part of an inquiry into how the blast occurred, but due to WA’s border restrictions that trip has been postponed indefinitely.


Feature Image: Puutu Kunti Kurrama And Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation