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Agreement to guide Rio’s Pilbara mining

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Following the destruction of sacred rock shelters in Western Australia’s Juukan Gorge, traditional owners and mining giant Rio Tinto have signed an agreement to guide cultural heritage management.

The Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation announced on Friday that it had signed a non-binding heads of agreement with the company to guide the ongoing management of mining on their lands.

PKKP chairman Burchell Hayes said the last two years had been incredibly painful for the PKKP people and would continue to be so, but that efforts to rebuild a relationship with Rio Tinto were ongoing.

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Mr Hayes stated, “This agreement provides clear acknowledgement that Rio Tinto accepts that the rock shelter destruction should not have occurred and makes clear that it is absolutely committed to listening, learning, changing, and co-managing country.”

“While the agreement is non-binding, we believe it is a clear signal of Rio Tinto’s intent, which will be put to the test in the co-management agreement that is ultimately reached.”

He said the agreement outlined key co-management principles to ensure the future protection and preservation of heritage sites on PKKP land.

These principles included giving PKKP traditional owners more control and involvement in mining activities, equal communication between the two parties, and clear delineation of mine areas.

The agreement, according to Rio Tinto Iron Ore Chief Executive Simon Trott, is an important step toward rebuilding relations with the PKKP people.

Mr Trott said, “The PKKP people have generously shared their knowledge to help inform our approach to best practise management and protection of cultural heritage, as well as how we can deliver better social and economic outcomes on the ground.”

“Our company is still processing the loss and suffering we caused at Juukan Gorge, which was a clear violation of our values.”

“We recognise that by seeking out, listening to, respecting, and responding to Indigenous voices and perspectives, we can help shape a better future.”

In May 2020, Rio de Janeiro blew up the 46,000-year-old Juukan caves on Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura land, destroying the traditional owners.

Under WA’s outdated Aboriginal Heritage Act, the mining giant had legal permission to destroy the caves, but it has since admitted it broke the PKKP’s trust.

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