• Protest organiser Robert Eggington hands over a letter of demands to Brad Haynes, Vice President, Corporate Relations. (AAP)Source: AAP
Reconciliation Australia suspends Rio Tinto recognition as protestors deliver letter demanding resignations and immediate changes to the Aboriginal heritage act to better protect sacred and significant sites.
Rangi Hirini, Jack Latimore

10 Jun 2020 - 10:23 AM  UPDATED 10 Jun 2020 - 10:28 AM

Reconciliation Australia has suspended Rio Tinto from its Reconciliation Action Plan program and revoked its endorsement of the mining giant after the company destroyed two historic cultural sites in Western Australia’s Pilbara region.

In a written statement released late on Tuesday, Reconciliation Australia said it had met with the company to voice its “extreme concern” after the 46,000-year-old rock shelters at Juukan Gorge were blasted late last month.

“The blasting activity in Juukan Gorge by Rio Tinto exposes a broken relationship with the Puutu Kunti Kurama and Pinikura (PKKP) Peoples and a breathtaking breach of a respectful relationship,” the statement said.

Reconciliation Australia also called on the company to honour its commitment to a full and public release of a review into the actions that led to the destruction of the historic sites.

The not-for-profit also said it would review the suspension if Rio Tinto demonstrated an improved relationship with the PKKP Traditional Owners and other “partner” TOs more broadly.   

Protests outside Perth office

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside Rio Tinto’s Perth headquarters on Tuesday to voice their anger at the blasting of the two rock shelters.

Noongar leaders delivered a letter demanding the resignation of Rio Tinto’s CEO and the state and federal Indigenous Affairs Ministers as part of the demonstration. The letter also called for a cessation of Rio Tinto’s mining operation and an end to the damaging of Aboriginal heritage sites by mining interests generally.

Rally organiser and CEO of Dumbartung Aboriginal Corporation, Robert Eggington, said Aboriginal people demanded “a full and comprehensive admission” of guilt from the company for “purposefully” blasting the sites to extend its mining operations in the area.

“Today here at this massive rally we call for the immediate resignation of the Federal Minister Ken Wyatt who said it was simply a mistake,” said Mr Eggington. 

“We call for the immediate resignation of Ben Wyatt, the state minister for Aboriginal Affairs who said that he did not even know that the blasts were going ahead.

“Rio Tinto came like a thief in the night and they blew away the sacredness of our mother earth with two detonations to the occupation of a cave site that went back over 46,000 years.”

Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura Traditional Owner Deloris Corbin drove down from Canarvon nine hours north of Perth to attend the event.

Mrs Corbin told NITV News a lot of her mob are disgusted by Rio Tinto's actions. 

"I would like them to come straight back and clean that gully up and preserve that cave to the best they can," Mrs Corbin said.

"We've got younger generation and we got no stories to tell them, all we can tell them is that we did have a cave there with history but there's nothing there now and it's very disheartening," she said. 

Brad Haynes Rio Tinto’s Vice President of Corporate relations accepted the letter.

“We are deeply sorry for the distress caused to the community, we acknowledge and respect that you have come here today to us and are speaking to us on this issue and we are committed to resorting our relationship with Indigenous communities and the PKKP people,” Mr Haynes said. 

Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt has previously acknowledged that he knew about the planned blasting of the site after his office was contacted by a concerned PKKP member. 

His WA state counterpart, Ben Wyatt then denied his office had any knowledge of the plans to destroy the sites on May 24.

The protest was organised against the destruction of An archeological survey conducted in 2014 on the two rock shelters at Juukan Gorge, 65 kilometres north-west of Tom Price, discovered ancient artefacts including grinding stones, a sharpened bone tool and 4,000-year-old hair-braid.

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