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Rio Tinto Admits Fact Hiding in Blasting Ancient Aboriginal Caves Jukkan Gorge

Mining News - Published on Mon, 10 Aug 2020

Image Source: Rio Tinto Juukan Gorge PKKP Aboriginal
Iron ore giant Rio Tinto, who is facing a storm of condemnation after legally destroying the ancient site in Western Australia's Juukan Gorge against the will of the land's traditional owners, admitted that it decided to destroy two 46,000 year old Aboriginal rock shelters in order to access AUD 135 million worth of iron ore that would not have been available under alternative mining plans avoiding the culturally significant site. Fronting a federal parliamentary inquiry into the events on Friday, Rio Tinto CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques outlined how the miner had considered four options to expand its Brockman 4 iron ore mine in 2012-13, three of which would have avoided the Juukan shelters by varying distances. But the company opted for a fourth option, Mr Jacques said, which involved destroying the site in order to access a greater amount of higher-grade iron ore. Mr Jacques said "The difference was 8 million tonnes of higher-grade iron ore. The value of that volume of the steelmaking raw material at the time was estimated to be AUD 135 million.”

Under questioning, Mr Jacques said the land's traditional owners, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, were never told there were other options that could have protected the Juukan Gorge site. He said "The PKKP was not made aware that four options were available in 2012 and 2013. Only one option was presented to the PKKP."

Rio Tinto, which had legal approval to blast the Juukan Gorge site, said it believed it had the consent of the PKKP until representatives for the PKKP Aboriginal Corporation approached the company once the explosive charges were already in place and the detonation could not be called off safely. The PKKP has rejected claims it had not previously relayed the preference for the ancient site to be preserved.

Warren Entsch, chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia, said he was disturbed by the fact the PKKP were not fully informed about other possible mining plans, and wanted the inquiry to delve further into the matter at a later date.

The Juukan Gorge disaster has highlighted the power imbalance between the nation's mining giants and Indigenous communities and raises questions being explored by the inquiry about a need for greater legal protections for traditional owners to safeguard significant sites on their ancestral land. Ancient artefacts unearthed at Juukan Gorge – including grinding and pounding stones, a 28,000-year-old marsupial bone which had been sharpened into a tool and a 4000-year-old belt made of plaited human hair with DNA linking it to today's PKKP people – have placed the site among the country's most significant archaeological research sites.

In 2019 Rio Tinto shipped 327.4 million tonnes of iron ore from the Pilbara.

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Posted By : Yogender Pancholi on Mon, 10 Aug 2020
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