Australia’s leading Indigenous organisations have established an alliance to protect cultural heritage sites, in the wake of Rio Tinto destroying a 46,000 year-old heritage site at Juukan Gorge in Western Australia's Pilbara Region.
The First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance is made up of Aboriginal Land Councils, Native Title Representative Bodies and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Organisations.
In a statement on Thursday, the Alliance said Rio Tinto no longer deserved to be considered the leading miner in building positive relationships with Aboriginal peoples in Australia.
Wiradjuri man and CEO of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, James Christian, told NITV News that Indigenous leaders have had “enough” and were at a “tipping point” with the destruction of sacred cultural heritage sites by mining giants.
“We have seen the wilful and accidental destruction of our culture and heritage now for many years, across many government’s,” said Mr Christian.
“The destruction of the Juukan Gorge site, I guess, highlights it in the mainstream media.
“Enough is enough.
“This is lawful...this is actually destruction, not protection that is enabled by the law.
"We need much better national codes, best practice and legislation, because the gaps are massive.”
Mr Christian said the current legislation allows for the “destruction, not protection, promotion and management” of sacred sites.
Currently, under the Aboriginal heritage laws, landowners and companies with extraction rights can apply to damage, disturb or destroy a cultural site for operation expansion.
In the case of applicants being knocked back by the expert committee of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, they have the right to appeal the decision, but the same right is not extended to Traditional Owners.
South Australian Native Title Services CEO, Keith Thomas has also thrown his organisation's support behind the Alliance,
“Certainly, the legislation has to be looked at, and it’s got to move beyond what I call a ‘search and destroy’ sort of legislation….they find those sites and they move to destroy those sites,” said Mr Thomas.
“When you damage sites, you’re damaging people you know, people relate to those places and people can get sickness from those things being destroyed and that type of thing.”
The Juukan Gorge was just one of 463 cultural sites which mining companies have applied for permission to destroy or disturb since 2010, with none of the applications refused.
Companies such as Fortescue Metals Group, Hamersley Iron, Mineral Resources and BHP Billiton, are among those who have had applications approved.