MELBOURNE (Reuters) – A precursor to Rio Tinto Ltd failed to protect 18,000-year-old artifacts showing how people lived during the last ice age, part of the destruction the mining giant has kept under wraps for decades. decades, an Australian Aboriginal group said on Friday.
The group said Rio, despite promises to improve the way it protects indigenous heritage after its destruction of sacred sites last year, has not been clear about the destruction of heritage in the 1990s at a mine. ore that local indigenous peoples still do not have access to.
Australian mining “is an industry that has not behaved responsibly and an industry that needs much greater oversight in protecting heritage and making deals,” said Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation (WGAC) in a press release.
The troubled relationship between mining, a vital industry in Australia’s economy, and the country’s Aboriginal heritage gained worldwide attention last year when Rio, with state approval, brought detonated two ancient rock shelters considered sacred to the indigenous peoples of Western Australia.
Outrage at the legal destruction presented in the Black Lives Matter protests in a country where Indigenous people have long suffered rates of imprisonment, unemployment and higher life expectancies.
Fury drove Rio to replace senior executives and promise to review its heritage protection practices.
Friday’s claims, in a submission to a government inquiry, relate to different sites in the same area around the Marandoo iron mine. The group said they learned that at least 18,000-year-old material and other artifacts were dumped in Darwin’s garbage heap.
Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Simon Trott said in a statement: âWe are not proud of many parts of our history in Marandoo and we reiterate our apologies to the traditional owners of the land, the Guruma people of the Is, for our past actions. We know we have a lot of work to do to right some of these historic wrongs, which are far below the standards we expect today. “
Trott’s statement did not address the specific claims of the indigenous group. Rio declined to comment beyond the statement.
The aboriginal group’s submission highlights an Australian legal structure that has long given the green light to mining development to the detriment of historically significant cultural sites.
âAny site from the last ice age is important because people used these sites as refuges, so we can get a feel for their reaction to glacial conditions,â said Duncan Wright, an indigenous archeologist at Australian National University. .
“If you had sites of this importance in England, they would be protected – it’s like destroying Stonehenge,” said Wright, who did not see the material. The sites might, in fact, have been much older, given the technology available in the 1990s, he said.
Hamersley Iron Pty Ltd and the State Government of Western Australia were aware in May 1992 “that rock shelter ‘MG2’ in Manganese Gorge contained Aboriginal cultural material dating back 18,000 years,” the earliest evidence of Aboriginal habitation during the Ice Age, WGAC said in the submission. . Rio acquired Hamersley in 2001.
Material from this rock shelter was accidentally dumped in a landfill, and Hamersley subsequently approved plans to dispose of unscaled material from 20 of the 28 sites that were recovered, he said.
“It is a wound that has not healed – that so many cultural sites have been lost, shattered, without even a recording, note or photograph kept,” the group said. “Nothing remains today beyond a deep hole in the ground.”
The group said it violated state regulations requiring the miner to safeguard recovered material, as part of an arrangement that exempts Rio from complying with state heritage laws.
Indigenous groups opposed the state government’s revisions to heritage protection laws that legalized the destruction of ancient sites.
Trott said Rio also supported the repeal of the law that created the exemption, the Marandoo Act of 1992, and that “discussions with traditional homeowner groups to better understand and reflect their wishes are underway.”
The indigenous group said artefacts from early reports included grinding material, hearths, sea shells, bones, stone and wooden artifacts from an area that contained numerous rock shelters, an area ceremony and a water point with engravings.
“Respect for the conditions of the state or for cultural heritage which has been destroyed on a large scale was so little respected that hundreds of cultural objects from eastern Guruma ended up in the trash,” he said. .
The group noted reports of vandalism at the M2 rock shelter, including an oil rig drilling a hole in its roof.
The WGAC said it is still unable to assess the heritage of Marandoo which is not included in its legal indigenous title claim, and that Rio does not pay royalties on the three oldest of its six mines on his ancestral lands.
“It is not surprising that this kind of behavior occurred in Western Australia, some 28 years before Juukan Gorge,” the area of ââdestruction last year, the WGAC board said in a statement. .
(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by William Mallard)
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