Banjima Native Title Aboriginal Corporation (BNTAC) has appointed former Rio Tinto chief executive Sam Walsh AO as independent director on the corporation’s Board.

With years of industry knowledge and experience behind him, Walsh headed Rio Tinto’s iron ore business before taking on chief executive of Rio Tinto Group in 2013. He led the miner for three years before being replaced by Jean-Sebastien Jacques.

BNTAC chair and Banjima Elder Maitland Parker says the corporation is looking forward to having Walsh on board.

“We extend a warm welcome to Sam and look forward to having his unique perspective on the projects and decisions that help our community,” he said.

The corporation has hopes Walsh will assist in the clean-up of the asbestos-ridden former townsite of Wittenoom, where mining wrapped up in 1966.

“Sam’s extensive experience in the mining sector and demonstrated track history with Aboriginal matters can support us in ensuring mining projects and conversations regarding issues like Wittenoom benefit Banjima People and our Country.”

Walsh said he was “absolutely delighted and very honoured” to be joining the Banjima Board after two-and-a-half decades of engagement with them. He joins the board effective immediately.

“My focus at BNTAC will be to be an active participant, to support the Board and the Corporation and to add value,” he said.

“Ultimately, I aim to have a positive impact not only on the organisation but, importantly, the whole of the Banjima community as well.”

Banjima Traditional Owners have significant land use agreements with some of Australia’s biggest miners, their Native Title area covers Rio Tinto’s Yandi and Hope Downs operations and BHP’s Mining Area C and South Flank mines.

Walsh’s relationship with Rio Tinto remains strained after public comments last year that he instructed Juukan Gorge not be mined during his tenure as chief executive. Rio Tinto disputed this claim and said they found no record of such instructions.

The miner was also forced to pay Walsh almost $7 million in entitlements in March last year after they were frozen for a corruption investigation into a payment to a consultant regarding an iron ore project in Guinea.

In a statement to NIT, Rio Tinto said the miner continues to “work constructively with the BNTAC board on a range of important issues and congratulates Sam Walsh on his recent appointment”.

When asked whether the miner was in the process of modernising its agreements with the Banjima people under the miner’s claims it plans to modernise its agreements with Pilbara Traditional Owners after Juukan Gorge, Rio Tinto did not confirm whether this process was underway with BNTAC.

“Discussions with Traditional Owner groups to better understand and reflect their wishes are ongoing.”

By Hannah Cross