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Rio Tinto names new CEO after ancient Aboriginal site destruction

·1-min read
Rio Tinto was forced to act after a public backlash and investor revolt over the destruction of an ancient Australian Aboriginal heritage site

Mining giant Rio Tinto announced a new chief executive Thursday, months after the previous boss resigned following the destruction of an ancient Australian Aboriginal heritage site.

A public backlash and investor revolt forced Rio Tinto's CEO and two top officials to step down in September after the firm destroyed a sacred site in the Juukan Gorge in the remote Pilbara region -- one of the earliest known locations inhabited by Australia's indigenous people.

The new CEO, Jakob Stausholm, noted the "difficult times we have faced during 2020" in a statement.

"I am also acutely aware of the need to restore trust with Traditional Owners and our other stakeholders, which I view as a key priority for the company," he added.

The site had contained some of the oldest Aboriginal artefacts ever found in Australia and was considered sacred by the Indigenous Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) people of Western Australia.

Though Rio Tinto had permission from the state government to blast in the area, the PKKP have said they had warned that the placement of some explosives would destroy two heritage rock shelters.

An ongoing parliamentary inquiry into the destruction has recommended the mining firm pay restitution to the PKKP, rebuild the destroyed site and commit to a permanent moratorium on mining in the area.

The preliminary report also recommended that all mining companies operating in Western Australia review agreements with Indigenous traditional landowners and halt any planned destruction of heritage sites until legal protections are bolstered.

Stausholm, who has been executive director and chief financial officer with the company since 2018, will take up his new role from January 1, 2021.

al/qan