MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Rio Tinto Ltd knew the cultural and historical significance of two caves in Western Australia years before it blew them up last month as part of an iron ore mine expansion, traditional owners said on Friday.
However, Rio, which won state government approval to destroy the caves in 2013, has said it believed it had consent from the traditional owners of the caves, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura People (PKKP), because they had not explicitly asked that the site not be mined.
The world’s biggest iron ore miner in late May destroyed the sacred Aboriginal caves in the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara that showed evidence of continual habitation dating back 46,000 years.
“Our elders are deeply distressed about this,” Burchell Hayes, a director of the PKKP Corporation said to the ABC.
“For years, we have made mention how significant those sites were to the PKKP people. When we say that those sites are significant, we have an expectation that miners, in this case, Rio Tinto … they don’t go and disturb that place,” he said.