Statement from the Australian Indigenous Archaeologists Association

09th June 2020


Statement from the Australian Indigenous Archaeologists Association

5 June 2020

 “The act by Rio Tinto to blast Juukan Gorge, a millennia old archaeological site and an ancient place of sacred significance to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) peoples of the Pilbara region is condemned by the Australian Indigenous Archaeologists’ Association (AIAA).

AIAA is concerned about the commitment of Rio Tinto to Australia’s Reconciliation Process with Indigenous Australians. That the destruction was carried out during National Reconciliation Week is particularly sad, but the decision to do so on Australia’s national day of Recognition of the Stolen Generations, ‘Sorry Day’, added insult to injury for the PKKP peoples and is an insult to all to Indigenous Australians.

AIAA questions Rio Tinto’s adherence to the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) Indigenous peoples and mining good practice guide. Specifically, acting in good faith, free prior and informed consent, and the failure to protect a sacred site of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura.

Finally, AIAA questions Rio Tinto’s adherence to their own standards. In Rio Tinto’s own Reconciliation Action Plan 2016-2019 they talk about Walking the Land Together, and how they will work with Traditional Owners to develop Cultural Heritage Management Plans. In their The Way We Work (2017) Rio Tinto asserts they will “Listen with respect and value the contributions of others.”

Our Association stands in solidarity with the PKKP peoples and all Australians involved in protecting Indigenous cultural heritage. While Rio Tinto acted within the law of Western Australia, we call for reform of Western Australia’s heritage protection laws.

The Indigeneous People of West Australia should be the guiding voice and at the centre of this reform, so that meaningful change can occur.

We also call on the Australian Commonwealth Government to legislate  minimum national standards (internationally recognised) for Indigenous heritage site assessment, management and protection.

This should include standards for the protection of both tangible and intangible aspects of our places within the cultural landscape.

We continue to recommend the establishment of an Australian Indigenous Heritage Commission to oversee and manage our valued sites and places. Australia’s rich Indigenous heritage and culture should be afforded the respect and protection that it deserves.”




Loss of Juukan Gorge Rockshelters, Pilbara Region, Western Australia

02nd June 2020

Australian Archaeological Association Inc.: Press Release

Loss of Juukan Gorge Rockshelters, Pilbara region, Western Australia


The destruction of the significant Juukan Gorge rockshelters, despite new and compelling evidence from archaeological excavations conducted after the permit to destroy was issued, highlights the urgent need to reform the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act. These actions highlight the need to have robust heritage agreements between proponents and Aboriginal communities that are responsive to new information about the cultural significance of sites. There has been an increasing call from professional archaeologists and Aboriginal Representative Bodies to have a forum in Western Australia for heritage appeals that considers the values of heritage to Traditional Owners and the State, and takes into account wider considerations of significance such as The Burra Charter.

New evidence for values and significance should be able to be incorporated into agreements with communities and reflected in the level of protection afforded by heritage law. This would bring WA into line with other States where up-to-date assessment of the significance of sites is used to make informed decisions around their protection and management. The early dates for occupation at Juukan, at 46,000 years ago, puts this site in the oldest bracket of dates for the human occupation of Australia’s deserts. This issue emphasises the need for the WA State Government to progress the reforms to the Heritage Act for greater clarity, certainty and site protection for Traditional Owners, land-users and the Regulator, and not the least for the heritage itself.

While AAA understands that Rio Tinto was legally permitted to destroy these sites under a Section 18 Notice issued in 2013, the fact that Rio did not revisit this decision after the site’s increased cultural significance was demonstrated by subsequent archaeological excavations, and visits by Traditional Owners, is inconsistent with modern standards of heritage management. Many of our members work extensively and collaboratively with Rio Tinto and have done so for many years, on the assumption that Rio Tinto’s strategic mission is to set best practice in cultural heritage management and establish and maintain ethical partnerships with Traditional Owner communities. It is expected that RTIO, and other resource developers, meet both the regulatory requirements mandated by state legislation and the expectations of their agreements with Traditional Owner groups. That the timing of the destruction of these sites was on Australian Sorry Day was particularly unfortunate. Multi-decadal investment in best-practice heritage management and Traditional Owner partnerships can be eroded by such actions.

There are important lessons to be learned here. As a discipline that prides itself on our collaborative work with Traditional Owner groups while striving for best practise outcomes in heritage compliance, we call on the Western Australian regulators and industry leaders to work towards building a stronger and fairer heritage protection framework for the State.

In this Week of Reconciliation – we say: We are Sorry.


For further information, contact:


Dr Tiina Manne, President, Australian Archaeological Association Inc. <>


Dr Peter Veth, Professor of Archaeology, University of Western Australia and Director of UWA Oceans Institute <>