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.”