Indigenous Groups and Investors Form New Alliance to Protect Heritage Sites | Indigenous Australians

A new alliance of powerful investors and Aboriginal heritage organizations has been formed in the wake of Rio Tinto’s destruction of the Juukan Gorge, to ensure that such a disaster “does not happen again”.

The Dhawura Ngilan collaboration says it will closely monitor mining companies from now on, recognizing that protecting Indigenous cultural heritage is the responsibility of all Australians, including the finance and business sectors.

“We have witnessed a backlash from national and global investors to the Juukan Gorge disaster, demonstrating that First Nations cultural heritage is both a moral issue and a significant financial risk,” said Estelle Parker of the Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA) and partner of Dhawura Ngilan. , alongside the UN Global Compact Network Australia.

Another major partner is the Hesta retirement pension. The fund, which manages $ 52 billion on behalf of more than 870,000 Australians and is an institutional investor in Rio Tinto, has long been critical of the way the mining giant has acted at Juukan Gorge.

“What we were able to do through the flashpoint that was Juukan Gorge is say, it’s a risk to the way you do business,” said Mary Delahunty, head of the impact of Hesta superannuation.

“I feel like we should have seen this had it not been for the Gorge incident, but I am so happy that it is now brought to the attention of investors and that we will never shy away from this type of business practice again. “she said.

Delahunty criticized the new Western Australian Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill, which sought to replace outdated legislation that allowed Rio Tinto to destroy a 46,000-year-old cultural site at Juukan Gorge, considered to have the highest archaeological significance in Australia.

Rio obtained ministerial consent to destroy or damage Western Australian government sites under that state’s Aboriginal Heritage Act in 2013, but said it had not reconsidered the deal in light new information from the 2014 archaeological excavations.

The explosion led to an international shareholder revolt, cost three senior Rio executives the job, and sparked a federal parliamentary inquiry.

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The Western Australian government has spent the last year consulting on the new bill, but traditional owners say it doesn’t offer them greater protections than before.

“We have seen and considered all of the submissions that have been made to this particular bill and have had lengthy conversations with the traditional owners about their concerns,” Delahunty said, saying the bill “does not represent the best to train “.

“At a minimum, policymakers should probably stop and consult more and seek to fill some of these gaps or we really risk losing the chance to do it right.”

Delahunty said part of the work ahead is to help investors understand how to support the free, prior and informed consent of traditional owners in their dealings with mining companies.

“I think investors get to this point, that when you’re looking to do business on land, with people who are the stewards of that land, they’re not just stakeholders. And this elevation of indigenous title holders in decision-making, which should be reflected in the Western Australian bill, in fact means that they have more consideration than any other actor in management and protection. or destruction and disturbance of culture. “

First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance Co-Chairs Kado Muir and Anne Dennis said the “immense burden” of pursuing social, cultural and environmental rights has fallen on land boards and indigenous property organizations under different legislative regimes. , and they welcomed a new national approach.

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Photograph: Tim Robberts / Stone RF

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Rodney Carter, Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council and CEO of the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans, said: “Every day there are sacred places, cultural places, places of healing that are being destroyed because of our Indigenous cultural heritage legislation. enables managed destruction.

“We need to take care of our culture and our heritage, not just for the benefit of our own crowd, but for all who visit our countries,” Carter said.

The federal investigation into the Juukan Gorge disaster was due to submit its final report to parliament next week.

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