Rio Tinto admits Juukan Gorge ‘irreparably damaged’The PKKP Aboriginal Corporation — which represents the interests of traditional landowners — has publicly said Rio Tinto’s decision to detonate the sites had caused immense trauma. Picture: Handout / PKKP Aboriginal Corporation / AFP

Rio Tinto has admitted its decision to blow up rock caves in Western Australia last year has “irreparably damaged” Indigenous sites sacred to First Nations people.

The mining giant released its 2020 annual report on Monday morning and took blame for the destruction of the Juukan Gorge caves in the Pilbara region, which were of significant importance to Aboriginal communities.

The PKKP Aboriginal Corporation — which represents the interests of traditional landowners — has publicly said Rio Tinto’s decision to detonate the sites had caused immense trauma for local communities.

Rio Tinto said the initial mining agreements had been organised between 2006 and 2011 and admitted management overlooked the historical importance of the site.

“The decision to destroy the rock shelters was taken nearly eight years ago but, because mining is such a long-cycle industry, that decision was not actually implemented until 2020,” the company said in a statement.

“We are engaging with the PKKP people to determine an appropriate remedy process for the destruction of the rock shelters.”

The company admitted an archaeological study of the region in 2013 and 2014 should have prompted an internal review.

Rio Tinto said it was taking steps to overhaul its processes and approach to cultural heritage. It also noted it was working with First Nations groups on remediation through a parliamentary inquiry.

Newly appointed chief executive Jakob Stausholm said the company was determined to rehabilitate and rebuild its credibility and reputation.

“Our destruction of the 46,000-year old rock shelters at Juukan Gorge in Western Australia was a breach of that leadership and our values,” Mr Stausholm said.

“We are working hard to heal and rebuild our relationships, credibility and reputation, and I know this will take time and effort.”

Three executives, including former chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques, were ousted from the company following the scandal.

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