Hold Rio Tinto to account

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On the eve of National Reconciliation Week, May 26 2020, it was revealed that Rio Tinto had blasted two caves at Juukan Gorge near Tom Price in the Pilbara region of Western Australia two days prior (Sunday May 24) to expand its iron ore mine. These caves were known to be a site of continual occupation for 46,000 years and sacred to the local Puutu Kunti Kurrama people. It was the only known inland site in the country to show signs of continual occupation through the last Ice Age. What’s more, they provided a 4000 year old genetic link to the the present day Traditional Owners (ref: Calla Wahlquist, Guardian Australia).

Due to broken state cultural heritage laws, the blast was given ministerial consent in 2013 by the WA State Government. However one year after approval, artefacts of huge significance were discovered by archaeologists including 4000 year old plaited human hair which DNA testing showed belonged to ancestors of present day Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura Traditional Owners. Sacred objects were discovered and the dig ascertained that the site was actually twice as old as previously thought. This discovery meant that Rio Tinto had a moral obligation to preserve the site. Instead, they proceeded with flagrant disregard for the site’s cultural heritage values.

Without a deep commitment to Indigenous reconciliation in Australia, Rio Tinto has lost its social licence to operate here. We, the undersigned, put the Board and Executive Directors of Rio Tinto on notice to demonstrate how this act of cultural destruction will be redressed. We also call on the WA Government to strengthen the Aboriginal Heritage Act including an urgent review of Section 18 to ensure cultural heritage atrocities like this are never repeated.

Sources: ABC News, SBS, Guardian Australia, Sydney Morning Herald.