Asia Minute: Australian Mining Company Destroys Sacred Indigenous Sites

Sep 14, 2020

One of the world’s largest mining companies is changing some of its top management following the destruction of sites sacred to Indigenous people in Australia. The move comes after months of criticism — including from some of the company’s top shareholders.

The Juukan Gorge rock shelters were part of West Australia’s landscape for tens of thousands of years, with evidence of continuous human habitation back to the Ice Age. Beneath the caves were some 8-million tons of iron ore.

In May, the Australian mining company Rio Tinto blew up the caves — so it could extract the iron ore. The company said it had the legal authority to do so, even though specialists had called it “one of the most archeologically significant sites in Australia” — and sacred to local Indigenous people.

In August, the company apologized, cut the bonuses of executives, and promised to recruit more Indigenous people for high corporate positions.

Outrage poured from local activists to the Church of England. But it took the anger of institutional investors to get to a deeper change.

On Friday, a company statement said, “significant stakeholders have expressed concerns about executive accountability for the failings identified.” The CEO will leave by next March at the latest — “resigning by mutual agreement” according to the company — at least two other executives will leave by the end of the year.

Australia’s national parliament is continuing an investigation of the incident.

The leader of an Indigenous Aboriginal group said, “we cannot and will not allow this type of devastation to occur ever again.”