Juukan Gorge owners scathing of Rio Tinto
Traditional owners of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters destroyed by Rio Tinto have accused the mining giant of ignoring their significance so it could maximise its profits.
In a scathing submission to the Senate inquiry examining the incident, the Puuti Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) people say there is a deep-rooted culture within Rio and the broader mining industry of undervaluing Aboriginal heritage.
They have also faced backlash from other traditional owners who blame them for the loss of the 46,000-year-old sites.
"PKKP people feel immense grief, guilt and a sense of failure for not being able to exercise their responsibility to look after country," they said in the submission published on Friday.
Rio's blasting of the sites earlier this year allowed it to extract an additional $US135 million ($A188 million) worth of high-grade iron ore.
Chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques and two other executives resigned this month following intense investor backlash.
Rio had consent under WA's outdated Aboriginal Heritage Act but failed to act upon expert reports noting the sites were among the most significant in Australia.
"It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Rio Tinto was not concerned about the archaeological or ethnographic findings in relation to the significance of the Juukan Gorge and was only interested in maximising the yield of iron ore," PKKP said.
"The problems within Rio Tinto that led to the Juukan Gorge disaster are deep-seated and systemic and revolve around culture and behaviour.
"PKKP believes the same culture is exhibited by the overwhelming majority of resource industry proponents in Western Australia."
The submission said PKKP and Rio had agreed to a moratorium on mining in the Juukan Gorge area until at least January 2021.
PKKP also want the site to be fully remediated and for traditional owners to be allowed access.
The submission outlines the sequence of events that led to the destruction, including the 2006 signing of a binding initial agreement between Rio and PKKP claimants represented by Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation (YMAC).
PKKP's agreement was a "direct consequence of its inequitable negotiating position", the submission said.
"PKKP were a group of native title claimants negotiating with a company with seemingly unlimited resources," they said.
"In these circumstances, PKKP agreed to enter into a regional 'one-size fits all' agreement restricting their already very limited rights in relation to cultural heritage on land which included the Juukan complex."
PKKP claimed there were plans to finalise a broader agreement within 12 months which allowed for cultural heritage protection measures, but that this did not occur.
"The sequence of events that led to the destruction of the Juukan Caves demonstrates that there was and is currently no true partnership with the PKKP people," they said.
PKKP have urged the Senate committee to visit the sites and inspect the damage, but WA's COVID-19 travel restrictions have prevented that from happening.
Rio Tinto, which has promised to review all participation agreements struck with Pilbara traditional owner groups, declined to comment.
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