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Expansion of FMG Iron Ore Mine in Pilbara Threatens 60,000 Year Old Sacred Site

Mining News - Published on Fri, 07 Aug 2020

Image Source: FMG Iron Ore Mine Pilbara WGAC
The Guardian reported that Fortescue Mining Group has sought approval to destroy the first batch of several sites in the Hamersley Range area to expand its operations. Traditional owners in the Pilbara, whose lands are near those destroyed by Rio Tinto’s blast at Juukan Gorge in May, say two ancient rock shelters, one of which is estimated to be at least 60,000 years old, are under threat at a site where Fortescue mining is planning expansion permitted under Western Australia’s Aboriginal heritage laws. In a submission to the Senate inquiry into Juukan Gorge, which will hold its first public hearing on Friday, the Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation said the two rock shelters contain evidence of use and occupation by humans dating back 47,800 years in one, and 60,000 years in the second. A third site contains petroglyphs, engraved rock art on a series of five stone panels that depict animal and human figures, animal tracks and geometric motifs. Eastern Guruma traditional owners describe the petroglyphs as the Guruma sacred text because figures representing the major dreaming narratives in the area are all contained within the same site.

Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation represents the Eastern Guruma people, whose native title over 6,000 square kiloeters of the Hamersley Range was the first claim to be finalised in the Pilbara, in 2007. Mining tenements cover 93% of Eastern Guruma country. There are currently seven mines and three rail lines operating on their lands, with new ones under construction.

Since 2017, Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation said it has responded to 15 applications for mining by Rio Tinto and FMG in Eastern Guruma country. Of 123 sites affected, 12 sites were identified by Eastern Guruma people to be of great cultural importance, being sites where customary law originated, birthing places, rock shelters dating back to earlier than 40,000 years ago, ceremonial sites, sites for storing sacred objects and rock art sites.

Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation’s native title agreement with Rio Tinto, signed in 2007, is confidential and traditional owners are unable to discuss its specifics. Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation said the Eastern Guruma people are in a similar situation to others in the Pilbara, who also find themselves with tightly contained agency, unable to object to or seek recourse on heritage or tenure decisions.

Fortescue Mining Group had sought approval under s18 of WA’s Aboriginal Heritage Act to destroy the first batch of several sites in the area to expand its operations. But Fortescue CEO, Elizabeth Gaines said the WA Government has agreed to pause consideration of the s18 AHA application for two months, so additional consultation can occur. Gaines said the company had previously agreed on a boundary around Spear Hill after working with Eastern Guruma people and Aboriginal heritage professionals nominated by Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation and consequently designed our mining operations to stay outside of the agreed boundary.

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Posted By : Yogender Pancholi on Fri, 07 Aug 2020
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