Juukan Caves Update 14 Sept 2020

Last week, the Rio Tinto Board dismissed CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques, and two other senior executives (Australian iron ore head, Chris Salisbury, and the corporate affairs boss, Simone Niven)  for the premeditated destruction of the cultural heritage of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, that rested for thousands of years in the Juukan Caves. 

ANTaR welcomes Rio Tinto finally taking this action and we hope it sends a message to other executives and boards of the big mining companies that this wanton destruction of Australia’s history is an unacceptable horror that should never be repeated. 

We acknowledge for many First Nations Peoples it will still not be enough. While we do not represent the traditional owners of these places of immeasurable value, as Australians we count the cost to our adopted heritage and see the profound loss as our own.

We stand with you in calling on governments and the mining industry to ensure this never happens again with appropriate legislative protections.  

The National Native Title Council (NNTC) are calling for ”the legislation of best practice national standards for the management and protection of cultural heritage at the federal level.”

Best practice in free, prior and informed consent is what is needed so First Nations Peoples can negotiate fairly and openly for the protection of their ancient cultural heritage.

Jaimie Lowe, CEO of the NNTC said “We do fear that if this is the behaviour of a company thought to have sector-leading standards, what is the risk another Juukan Gorge-type incident will happen again, without sector-wide reforms? Traditional Owners are not anti-economic development. They just want to be able to protect their most significant cultural heritage sites.”

ANTaR National Director, Paul Wright said “Rio Tinto have, for the last 3 months, felt the weight of outrage from First Nations peoples and the many non-Indigneous Australians that have been devastated by the destruction in the Pilbara. This is a clear signal to the whole mining industry to make this right and ensure the protection of this ancient and continuing culture for all Australians. We have a responsibility to protect and defend the cultural heritage of this continent that has been passed to us from the hundreds of generations of First Nations owners that have seen it abide for millenia.”

At ANTaR we have stood alongside First Nations Peoples since the late 90’s when we first joined with them to protect their land. Many Australians would be surprised to learn that in that time, Native Title continues to be negotiated in an intensely complicated and fraught process favouring development over cultural protection. In 2020, there is no excuse for companies not negotiating with traditional owners, and they must do so in the most socially and culturally responsible way possible.

You can find our recent submission to the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee here: https://antar.org.au/sites/default/files/antar_submission_to_jsc_inquiry…