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Mining giant Rio Tinto says it will launch a review of its heritage procedures after it blew up a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal cultural site in Western Australia

Sharon Masige
  • Mining giant Rio Tinto says it has launched a review into its heritage management processes after destroying a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal cultural site in Western Australia to expand an iron ore mine.
  • The company's review will look into ways it can improve its standards and procedures, with input from the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and the Pinikura people .
  • Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson also apologised to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people on behalf of the company's board.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Mining giant Rio Tinto will be reviewing its heritage management processes after it destroyed a 46,000-year-old site in Western Australia's Juukan Gorge so it could expand an iron ore mine.

Rio Tinto blasted the site – destroying two ancient rock shelters – in May 2020 after receiving ministerial consent in 2013 under Western Australia's Aboriginal Heritage Act (1972), the ABC reported.

In 2014, an archaeological dig discovered that the site contained artefacts and sacred objects, including a 4,000-year-old piece of hair with genetic links to the present day Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura traditional owners, The Guardian reported.

However, WA's Aboriginal Heritage Act as it currently exists does not allow for a renegotiation of consent, even if new information is found.

Traditional owners were deeply affected by the destruction of the site.

"It saddens us that something that we have got a deep connection to has been destroyed," Puutu Kunti Kurruma traditional owner Burchell Hayes told the ABC, adding that the destruction would affect future generations.

"Traditionally we hand that [heritage] down to the next generation, but in this case we won't have anything to show the next generation and to tell them stories about what has happened there and what's been passed down from our ancestors."

Rio Tinto is launching a review into its heritage management practices

On May 31, Rio Tinto issued a statement with an apology to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people.

"We pay our respects to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura People (PKKP), and we are sorry for the distress we have caused," Chris Salisbury, Chief Executive, Iron Ore at Rio Tinto said in a statement.

"Our relationship with the PKKP matters a lot to Rio Tinto, having worked together for many years."

Now the mining giant has launched a review into its heritage management processes within its iron ore business, following the blast at Juukan Gorge. The review, which will be made public, is going to look at ways to improve the company's internal processes.

In a statement to the ASX,, the company said it will examine what happened at Juukan Gorge as well as its heritage standards, procedures, reporting and governance. In addition, the review will look into the company's relationship and communication with the PKKP.

The company aims to hand down a final report by October.

"On behalf of the Rio Tinto board, I would like to apologise to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people," Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson said in a statement. "The decision to conduct a board-led review of events at Juukan Gorge reflects our determination to learn lessons from what happened and to make any necessary improvements to our heritage processes and governance."

The review will be managed by non-executive director of Rio Tinto, Michael L'Estrange, with input and engagement from the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and the Pinikura people, Rio Tinto workers, Traditional Owners, Indigenous leaders and other experts.

"Our immediate priority is to regain the trust of Traditional Owners, starting with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people," Rio Tinto CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques said in a statement.

"We very much look forward to incorporating the findings of the board-led review into our heritage processes and approach."

The mining company added that it will support the WA Government on its planned reform of the Aboriginal Heritage Act.