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Rio Tinto Accused Of Allowing Material From Indigenous Cultural Heritage Sites To Be Dumped

Stewart Perrie

Published 
| Last updated 

Rio Tinto Accused Of Allowing Material From Indigenous Cultural Heritage Sites To Be Dumped

An explosive submission to the Juukan Gorge inquiry has revealed how Indigenous heritage material from at least 14 cultural sites was dumped at the Darwin tip.

The Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation published documents to the inquiry that not only implicate Rio Tinto, but also contractor Kinhill Engineers and the WA Aboriginal Affairs Department in the horrific incident, according to NIT.

The information suggests Rio Tinto requested the help of the contractor in 1992 to excavate Eastern Guruma sites from its multi-billion dollar Marandoo mine.

They only excavated 28 sites out of an estimated 400 plus options at Marandoo. They found loads of material related to the First Nations people who had lived there for thousands of years.

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The majority of the material was sent to Northern Territory University (NTU), now Charles Darwin University, to be studied by experts.

They were able to work out that some of the material found dated back 18,000 years and proved the Traditional Owners' connection to the land from before the last Ice Age.

However, instead of being preserved, those artefacts were sent to the Darwin tip and were destroyed in 1995.

Credit: Bäras (Creative Commons)
Credit: Bäras (Creative Commons)
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Eastern Guruma traditional owners say they were 'left with nothing' when they discovered their precious physical pieces of history were gone. The university eventually sent a letter to contractors Kinhill that explained what happened.

A report from Rio Tinto released in 1997 claimed the material had been stored in dozens of bags, which were 'open', and were tossed into a shipping container that had 'rusted out, and holes in the roof had let water onto and into some of the bags. Bags were labelled, however this did not always correspond with their contents'.

But they failed to mention how the artefacts were discarded.

The Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal corporation says Rio Tinto and the Western Australia government have kept this a secret for years.

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The WGAC submission says: "So little was the respect for either the state's conditions, or for the cultural heritage that was destroyed on a massive scale, hundreds of Eastern Guruma cultural artefacts ended up in the bin. It is WGAC's view that the accidental, and then deliberate, discarding and destruction of Eastern Guruma cultural material was never disclosed to the Eastern Guruma people."

Rio Tinto's CEO, Simon Trott, said the company isn't 'proud' of its past and they are working affected traditional owners to fix things.

In a statement, Mr Trott said: "We're not proud of many parts of our history at Marandoo and we reiterate our apology to the Traditional Owners of the land, the Eastern Guruma People, for our past actions.

"We know we have a lot of work ahead to right some of these historical wrongs which fell well short of the standards we expect today. This will take time, consistent effort and open dialogue with the WGAC to rebuild trust and reset our relationship for the future.

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"Our leadership team are engaging regularly on this important work and are committed to meeting with the WGAC again when they are ready."

To support the fight against racial injustice visit ladbible.com/unheard

Featured Image Credit: PA

Topics: Australia

Stewart Perrie
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