Rio Tinto Limited (ASX: RIO) has announced that it will implement an Indigenous Advisory Group (IAG) in an attempt to avoid the destruction of culturally significant landscapes. This decision comes after the controversy surrounding the demolition of Juukan Gorge in Western Australia.
The caves, which were at least 46,000 years old, were blown up by the mining giant last year. Consequently, Rio’s actions caused uproar in the Indigenous community, the media, society at large, and with investors. The CEO, along with 2 senior executives, resigned almost immediately afterwards. In addition, the chair of the company resigned earlier this month.
Let’s take a closer look at the steps Rio Tinto is taking to greater respect Indigenous culture.
Rio Tinto’s cultural heritage seminars
Yesterday, Rio held a series of online seminars for investors on the steps it would be taking after the Juukan Gorge disaster.
The IAG will advise the company, including at a board level, of Indigenous culture and issues within Australia. The group was formed after extensive consultations with the Australian Indigenous community to achieve “more diversity and breadth of views…in decision making,” according to a statement.
The group will consist of 5-8 members. The company hopes with the group it can regain trust both within and outside local Indigenous communities. Importantly, communities such as the Kurrama and Binigura peoples of the Pilbara region.
Regarding the decision, Rio Tinto CEO Jakob Stausholm said:
We have reflected a great deal as a company and leadership team over recent months – listening, learning and responding by taking actions to better manage Traditional Owner partnerships and cultural heritage aspects of our business
…ultimately, we are guests on their land. And, as guests, we must respect our hosts and work with them to understand their priorities and concerns and minimise our impacts.
Furthermore, Rio Tinto will report on its actions and progress in this space annually. It expects to release its first report in the first quarter of FY22.
Native Title and the mining industry
Despite the understandable uproar caused by Rio Tinto’s destruction of Juukan Gorge caves, its actions were, in fact, legal.
According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) the site was approved for removal in 2013 under Section 18 of the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act (1972).
Under Section 18 of the Act, the Minister for Planning, Lands, and Heritage can give consent to a mining corporation to destroy significant Aboriginal sites.
A federal government review of the incident recommended WA place a moratorium of Section 18 approvals under the Act. The Premier, Mark McGowan, refused to do so.
Currently, the WA government is reviewing the act. It intends to introduce legislation to the parliament in September to make amendments. The Guardian reports the proposed legislation makes some improvements, however, it still “doubles down on the same processes that failed Juukan Gorge traditional owners…”
Rio Tinto share price snapshot
At the time of writing, the Rio Tinto share price was up 0.3% on yesterday’s close – trading at $108.10.
Over the last 12 months, shares in the mining giant have appreciated by 35.85%. Its growth over the last few months has been driven by a rapid rise in the commodity price of iron ore.
Rio Tinto has a market capitalisation of $40 billion.