Rio must pull out of Oak Flat after damning Parliamentary report

10 December 2020                   

Rio must pull out of Oak Flat after damning Parliamentary report

MEDIA RELEASE

Mining giant Rio Tinto must pull out of its proposed Resolution copper mine at Oak Flat in Arizona in the wake of a damning Parliamentary Committee report, the First Nations Heritage Alliance said today.

The Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia report tabled late yesterday found that the destruction of a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal site at Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara region of WA by Rio was “inexcusable”.

The Committee found that Rio knew the value of what it was destroying, had other options that would have enabled mining to continue, but chose to blow the shelters up anyway, causing immeasurable harm to the local Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura peoples.

The Committee report also highlighted major shortcomings in both WA and Commonwealth laws and urged reform of these.

The Committee has handed down its report at a time when Indigenous sacred lands are under threat by a Rio Tinto controlled joint venture copper mine at Oak Flat in Arizona, in the US.

Alliance Co-Chair, Kado Muir said that while Rio had apologised for its destruction at Juukan Gorge, its words would ring hollow unless its behaviour also changed.

“Riding roughshod over First Nations people does not equate to responsible corporate behaviour or practices. Rio Tinto and its investors must demonstrate they have learnt from the Juukan tragedy and not repeat the mistake again at Oak Flat in the United States,” Mr Muir said.

“All development approvals in any jurisdiction without the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of First Nations peoples are invalid. The release of the Juukan Report and the lessons learnt, presents an opportunity for Rio Tinto and the Mining industry to demonstrate leadership in rebuilding relationships with First Nations peoples.

Those relationships must work within and empower our cultural, economic and governance institutions, align with United Nations standards for FPIC and aim for a transformation in corporate adherence to Environmental, Social and Governance priorities.”

Oak Flat, or Chich’il Bildagoteel is located near the San Carlos Apache Tribe’s Reservation and is a sacred area to Western Apache Tribes.  It is listed as a Traditional Cultural Property (TCP) on the United States’ National Register of Historic Places.

Mr. Muir said that whether they operate here in Australia or abroad, companies need to be far more respectful of First Nations People and their cultures. 

Alliance Co-Chair, Cr Anne Dennis urged industry, as well as the WA and Federal Governments, to heed the findings of the Joint Select Committee.

“Committee Chair, Warren Entsch and his colleagues should be commended for leaving no stone unturned in getting to the bottom of what happened at Juukan Gorge and why,” Cr Dennis said.

Cr Dennis said the Alliance welcomed the Committee extending its inquiry to other jurisdictions in the New Year.

“Australia’s cultural heritage protection system is broken.  Warren and his colleagues are playing a major role in rebuilding it and we look forward to their continued work,” she said.

Media contact: Gary Highland on 0418 476 940