Miner BHP says Aboriginal landowners free to speak on how it manages cultural heritage

by Reuters
Wednesday, 16 September 2020 06:37 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A truck readies to pick up a load of iron ore at Australia's Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) Chichester Hub in the Pilbara region, located southeast of the coastal town of Port Hedland in Western Australia, November 29, 2018. REUTERS/Melanie Burton

Image Caption and Rights Information

It comes after fellow miner Rio Tinto destroyed a 43,000-year old Aboriginal rock shelter despite protest

MELBOURNE, Sept 16 (Reuters) - BHP Group said on Wednesday the destruction of a 43,000-year old Aboriginal rock shelter in Australia by fellow miner Rio Tinto had impacted the trust between Indigenous land owners and the resource industry.

It said it would halt work that could impact Aboriginal sacred sites while it consulted further with Indigenous groups and that Aboriginal owners of the land it mined were free to comment on its management of their cultural heritage.

BHP will appear before an Australian parliamentary inquiry into the Rio incident on Thursday,

Rio's legal destruction of an ancient Aboriginal rock shelter at Juukan Gorge in May caused an outcry and saw its chief executive and iron ore boss step down.

BHP as recently as April pressed ahead with development at its South Flank iron ore mine in the Pilbara in Western Australia state that would impact sites sacred to the Banjima people, despite their stated opposition, before freezing the work in June amid outcry over the Rio blast.

"We recognise that what was lost at Juukan Gorge is not only the loss of a site of deep and unique living cultural heritage, but also a loss of trust, not just for the company involved, but with impacts for the entire resource industry," BHP said in a statement.

BHP said it would not enforce any clauses in agreements with traditional owners that may appear to restrict their right to express their concerns over BHP's management of their heritage.

"All people have the right to speak freely and publicly on matters relating to their culture and their cultural heritage including any concerns they have about impacts to cultural heritage."

As was the case at Juukan Gorge, if new information about the significance of a site was uncovered, BHP said it would also commit not to undertake activities that would disturb the site without agreement with the traditional owners.

Where it had state government permission to damage significant sites, BHP said it had confirmed with traditional owner groups that it would not act without first undertaking further extensive consultation with them.

It was also engaged in a number of periodic contract reviews with the Aboriginal groups on whose land it mined, it said.

(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Michael Perry)