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Muntulgura Guruma people take stand to protect sacred sites from proposed mine

Giovanni Torre -

Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation has urged a mining company to reconsider their plans to develop another mine at the doorstep of Karijini National Park.

The Corporation, which represents the Muntulgura Guruma people in the central Pilbara, fears the project will be a grave threat to the natural environment and cultural values.

Wintawari Guruma says Equinox Resources is preparing to develop their Hamersley Iron Ore Project "on the very footsteps of Karijini", an area that is "a vital source of ground and surface water that nourishes Hamersley Gorge".

"In Muntulgura Guruma country, natural billabongs and waterholes are damaged beyond repair. Giant mines tear the land to pieces. Haul roads and access roads disrupt the ecology of the region," Wintawari Guruma notes on their campaign page.

In a statement, the Corporation said the mine is planned for the foothills of the western fringes of Karijini National Park where there are numerous Aboriginal sacred sites and important water sources from the lower Fortescue River that feed into "iconic places such as the world famous Hamersley Gorge".

Equinox plan to begin drilling before the end of the year.

Wintawari Director Dawn Hughes told National Indigenous Times "it is time the wider community understands the enormous pressure being put on the park from mining".

"If this mine goes ahead, it will irrevocably ruin the western side of the park and Hamersley Gorge," she said.

"We can't sit by while they build yet another mine in such an unspoiled area. This area is pristine. How could the company or the government even contemplate a mine being built here? It's madness."

Wintawari has launched a website to alert the community to the significant threats to Karijini National Park from the mine.

Ms Hughes and the Wintawari Board urged the community to get behind their campaign and sign the petition at Savekarijini.org.au.

Equinox chief executive Zac Komur told National Indigenous Times that the company recognised "the strong connection of the Muntulgura Guruma People to the lands and waters of the East Pilbara region and respect their rights and culture as the Traditional Owners of the area".

"We are intent on collaborating with them and have reached out to propose a joint development of the Hamersley Iron Ore Project, especially given their emerging involvement in a number of iron ore exploration and mining ventures in close proximity to our operations," he said.

"Given that the Hamersley Iron Ore Project is underpinned by a granted Mining Lease and an existing Native Title Agreement signed by the group, Equinox Resources intends to exercise its lawful rights to advance this project while continuing to engage with the Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation to find areas of common ground and evaluate potential opportunities for cooperation, both within and outside the framework of the existing Native Title Agreement.

"We look forward to continuing to engage with the Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation in a mutually respectful manner to unlock the value of the natural resources of the region for the benefit of all parties".

Wintawari notes that Karijini National Park is the ancient heart of Western Australia's Pilbara region, encompassing a landscape two and a half billion years old.

"This area holds stories of nature's grandeur and the deep connections between the Muntulgura Guruma people and this land they have occupied for millennia. Our sacred country enchants travellers with unspoiled landscapes and rich cultural heritage. It invites people on a journey through time where the ancient traditions of our people meet the curiosity of visitors from around the world," Wintawari noted on its campaign page.

"This country is our shared heritage. We want to preserve what unspoiled country we have left for future generations. We want to protect the great cultural significance of the landscape, the unique ecology of the region, and the stunning natural beauty of the area - for us and for the two hundred thousand visitors who come to admire the beauty of Karijini each year.

"Our voices are falling on deaf ears. We're asking the wider community to hold hands with us to protect what's left. Not just for us, but for everyone."

Equinox told National Indigenous Times it will pursue "responsible development pathways and practices" in full compliance with State and Federal Government regulations and which are aimed at minimising the impact on the environment, including undertaking a full Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Project, for which an experienced consultancy was recently engaged to undertake Terrestrial Fauna Surveys.

The company said no material risk to fauna species and habitats was identified and further studies are planned in 2024.

Equinox is planning to pursue a limited drilling program at the Hamersley Iron Ore Project in 2024 to undertake further resource definition and obtain samples for metallurgical test work and potential customer engagement. The company said the proposed activity would "substantially" use existing drilling pads, layover area and existing tracks which were fully disturbed by historical drilling in mid-2021.

Equinox has not developed a mining proposal at this stage of the project's development, but said "any such proposal in the future would consider a number of matters including any potential impact on groundwater or creek systems in the region".

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