08/08/2020 - 14:27

Rio belittled our heritage: PKKP

08/08/2020 - 14:27

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The traditional owners at the centre of the Juukan Gorge controversy said Rio Tinto’s response to a parliamentary inquiry had only deepened their anguish.

Rio belittled our heritage: PKKP

The traditional owners at the centre of the Juukan Gorge controversy said Rio Tinto’s response to a parliamentary inquiry had only deepened their anguish.

Burchell Hayes, who is a director of PKKP Aboriginal Corporation and a spokesperson for the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, said he hoped the investigation aided in their healing.

Rio Tinto’s submission to the parliamentary inquiry has deepened our hurt as we understand the true extent of the dysfunctional process which led to this desecration and has belittled our heritage,” Mr Hayes said in a statement on Saturday.

“The information tabled to date leads us to question the foundations of our relationship with Rio Tinto.

“In particular, we regret the lack of value being attached to the land we had entrusted to them, beyond short term financial gains.”

Mr Hayes was responding to Rio’s submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia.

Chief executive J-S Jacques appeared before the committee on Friday, when he reiterated Rio’s regret at the destruction of the ancient rock shelters at Juukan Gorge.

The iron ore miner obtained state government approval in 2013 to destroy the caves but failed to modify its plans after subsequent archaeological research revealed highly significant ancient artefacts in two rock shelters at the site.

The artefacts were removed before the caves were blasted in May.

The sites are also of substantial ethnographic significance.

Rio told the inquiry it could have avoided destroying the caves but chose this option as it gave better access to high grade iron ore valued at $135 million.

Mr Hayes said he, his family, elders and ancestors were continuing to mourn the desecration of their sacred site.

“This is a part of our land that we are deeply connected to and which was an important feature of our future,” he said.

"Healing is slow and painful and will not come easily.

“Our trust in the system and our partners has been broken completely.

“I hope that some good can come out of our pain as we all work to build a new future for ourselves and future generations.

“At the same time, we are committed to working with Rio Tinto and other stakeholders to build a positive legacy.

“We would like to see a true commitment from Rio Tinto to do the same.”

Mr Hayes said the PKKP appreciated the serious manner in which federal parliament was dealing with the matter.

“The first element of healing is understanding. As such, we are pleased that the parliamentary inquiry is establishing the facts behind this tragedy,” he said.

“We hope that this process will assist us all in our healing, will pave the way for constructive future engagements and put measures in place to ensure that this never happens again.

“We will continue to engage with the inquiry and look forward to finalising our submission in coming weeks.”

As well as the federal inquiry, the state government is planning to replace the Aboriginal Heritage Act, which was passed in 1972.

The proposed changes include removal of the section 18 approvals process, which has led to the destruction of numerous Aboriginal heritage sites by mining companies and other organisations.

The new legislation is expected to include the establishment of new bodies, led by Aboriginal people, to assess the significance of heritage sites and evaluate development proposals that could lead to them being damaged or destroyed.

Current minister Ben Wyatt wants the government to have a lesser role but it is expected the minister will need to assess contentious development proposals.

 

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