Rio Tinto has awarded a $200m contract for developing, mining and transporting iron ore to a joint venture between native title holders the Eastern Guruma and mining services company NRW.

The contract work will be performed at the company’s Western Turner Syncline deposit in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

Eastern Guruma and NRW will develop a haul road and transport the ore 15km to the Tom Price mine for processing and mixing with other Pilbara Blend stocks.

The indigenous contract will raise Eastern Guruma equity in the joint venture to 35% from 25%.

Over four years an increase in mandated Aboriginal employment will raise 27% each year, with $6m being contributed under the contract for training of Eastern Guruma people.

The project has the potential to become a 50:50 joint venture.

Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Sam Walsh said the project enables a local Aboriginal contractor to build and mine the Western Turner Syncline deposit.

“It will allow the Eastern Guruma people to develop capacity in mining services, and have increased participation in the resource development taking place on their country,” Walsh said.

“Western Turner Syncline will provide high-grade iron ore which will be processed and blended using existing infrastructure in Tom Price and, together with upgrades of rail and port capacity, will support an increase in our production capacity in the Pilbara to 230 million tonnes a year.”

Rio Tinto, through indigenous contractors in the Pilbara, will spend more than $110m in 2009.