Since the discovery Rio Tinto signed off on the disposal of their cultural heritage at the Darwin rubbish tip in the 1990s, Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation (WGAC) has decided to cut all engagements with Rio Tinto for the next three months.

WGAC non-executive Director Tony Bevan says he doesn’t believe Rio Tinto has truly understood their actions at the Marandoo operation, which saw the destruction of hundreds of sites that had not been investigated or salvaged.

“I don’t think [Rio Tinto] understands what occurred at Marandoo. So, for them, they’re yet to come to terms with what Rio Tinto or Hamersley Iron did between 1992 and 1997,” Bevan told NIT.

Prior to the discovery of the rubbish tip incident, WGAC had agreed to do a Welcome to Country at Marandoo and Tom Price for Rio Tinto’s NAIDOC Week celebrations.

Bevan said when the WGAC Board read the final submission for the Juukan Gorge inquiry which revealed the historical heritage destruction, they agreed Eastern Guruma Traditional Owners would not be doing any Welcomes to Country for Rio Tinto any time soon.

“They’d been talking to us for about a month or so about NAIDOC Week, and we had agreed to do two Welcomes to Country,” Bevan said.

“Rio Tinto were desperate to get us to do a Welcome to Country, I think they were quite shocked [when we said no].”

This decision to withdraw their Welcomes to Country is part of a larger move by Eastern Guruma Traditional Owners, who remain shocked and hurt by what happened at Marandoo.

WGAC will not meet with representatives from Rio Tinto, nor will it be engaging in any other arrangements with the miner for the next three months.

“Mining companies are always wanting to engage and have consultations with the Board, and one of the few things we can do, that’s within WGAC’s power, is to not engage and to withdraw Welcomes to Country,” Bevan said.

“The corporation doesn’t get paid royalties on half their mines; they don’t have a lot of power. The agreements are very one sided with all sorts of gag clauses in them. There’s not a lot of things they can do.”

Bevan said WGAC will be looking very closely at the miner’s claim they are modernising their agreements with Traditional Owners across the Pilbara.

“If they’re not serious, we’ll be holding them to account. Publicly.”

By Hannah Cross