Indigenous groups in the iron ore-rich Pilbara region of Northwestern Australia have called for a judicial review against the miner Rio Tinto, which they accuse of allowing hundreds of irreplaceable Indigenous cultural artefacts to be thrown away at a rubbish dump in Darwin.
Despite pledges to improve how it protects Indigenous heritage, following its destruction of sacred sites last year, the group said that Rio Tinto did not come clean about destroying hundreds of artefacts at the Marandoo iron ore mine during the 1990s, which local Aboriginal people still do not have access to.
Tony Bevan, a director of Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation, which represents the Eastern Guruma people in the Marandoo agreement, said: “They should face a judicial inquiry just so they can be compelled to answer the questions, because there’s quite a few questions today that they did not answer”.
On Friday, the federal parliamentary inquiry into Rio Tinto’s destruction of the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge rock shelters held its final public hearing. At the hearing, representatives of the miner told the Senate Committee it has “no internal records” of the disposal of Marandoo heritage material in 1997, despite a letter from the same year indicating otherwise.
A spokesperson for Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation, which represents Eastern Guruma Traditional Owners, said that traditional owners were “disappointed with the continued lack of transparency” from Rio Tinto.
“They didn’t answer many of the questions put by the committee, and their answers regarding Marandoo were misleading,” the spokesperson said.
Compensation for Juukan Gorge
During the inquiry, company officials also stated that they had yet to pay compensation to the Aboriginal group whose ancient rock shelters it destroyed for an iron ore mine in Western Australia last year.
The incident at Juukan Gorge created public outrage that led to a dramatic overhaul of Rio’s leadership and a review of the Australian laws that are supposed to protect significant sites of the world’s oldest living culture.
The head of Rio Tinto’s Australian operations, Kellie Parker, told the inquiry on Friday that the company was committed to “doing the right thing” around paying restitution but said that details around the financial component of any compensation were subject to a confidentiality agreement at the PKKP’s request.
The PKKP said that it continued to work in good faith with Rio Tinto on the recovery and rehabilitation at Juukan Gorge and the development of a co-management model for their operations.
“The results on these will be the true test of our relationship with Rio Tinto,” it said.