Rio Tinto’s destruction of 46,000-year-old rock shelters sacred to the local Indigenous population in Australia’s Juukan Gorge during mine expansion, although legal, not only tarnished the company’s reputation and cost senior executives, including the CEO, their jobs, it triggered an inquiry in the Australian parliament and renewed focus on the nature of free, prior and informed consent.
The initial blasting and the reaction sent shockwaves through the international mining community, especially since there seemed to be a discrepancy between what the mining company considered to be consent to go ahead with the project and what the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) people understood.
“We have operated on PKKP country under a comprehensive and mutually agreed Participation Agreement since 2011,” Rio Tinto wrote in a statement after the caves’ destruction. “At Juukan, in partnership with the PKKP, we followed a heritage approval process for more than 10 years.”
The PKKP Aboriginal Corporation acknowledged that it had consented to the mine expansion in 2013, “but since the authorization, archaeological research has revealed highly significant ancient artifacts found in two rock shelters at the site, with some known to date back 20,000 years before the last Ice Age. The sites are also of substantial ethnographic significance.”
The PKKP Aboriginal Corporation lamented “that Rio Tinto has complied with its legal obligations, but we are gravely concerned at the inflexibility of the regulatory system which does not recognize the importance of such significant archaeological discoveries within the Juukan Gorge once the Minister has given consent.”
For the rest of this article: https://magazine.cim.org/en/environment/the-blast-felt-around-the-world-en/