Fortescue accused of blocking Aboriginal elders from sacred sites

 The Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) has accused Fortescue Metals of blocking Aboriginal elders from inspecting threatened sacred sites at the miners Solomon Hub project.

In the latest salvo in this long running battle between the YAC and Fortescue Metals Group, YAC head Michael Woodley has claimed that elders who were attempting to check sites at Fortescue’s Firetail lease, which were reportedly under threat from blasting, had been refused entry by security, according to The West Australian.

However, the miner stated that the YAC officials and elders were denied entry because they had attempted to bring a video camera on site, which is against company policy.

Woodley labelled the move as one from "a company in damage control".

"The only safety FMG are worried about is the safety of their increasingly discredited public image," he said.

"The last thing FMG want is for Yindjibarndi people to bring to light more evidence of the terrible damage they are doing."

Woodley went on to say that they would return to video the sites and take photos on 6 December.

FMG stated it had agreed Woodley could visit the site, but that he would not follow safety and security protocols, stating that he "refused to attend under standard site safety and security conditions including that he not bring media or recording devices onto the mine construction site”.

It comes as Fortescue has slammed the Greens and YAC’s previous claims that the miner forced the change of an Aboriginal heritage survey.

The miner came under fire after the Greens called on the Federal Government to act on claims that Fortescue was damaging Aboriginal heritage sites in the Pilbara.

Greens senator Rachel Siewert claimed that at its Firetail and Solomon sites Fortescue had been ignoring Aboriginal heritage sites "and there is deep concern that this is having an adverse impact on ancestral burial grounds and other areas sacred to the Yindjibarndi community".

The Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) had also reportedly asked environment  minister Tony Burke to use emergency powers to stop the miner amid concerns that its activities will desecrate ancestral burial grounds

An archaeologist from Eureka Heritage History Achaeology, which carried out the study, backed up the claims.

Archaeologist Sue Singleton stated that she was forced the change survey details by the miner.

Fortescue dismissed these most recent claims, as well as the preivous ones, stating that it has followed and complied with the legal and regulatory requirements of the Aboriginal Heritage Act at every step of the process.

"Allegations that FMG has threatened legal action against Western Australia’s Registrar of Aboriginal Sites Kathryn Przywolnik are a gross misrepresentation of a complex situation."

It went on to say it has worked with the Yindjibarndi people to identify and protect sacred sites, adding that the community and the group Fortescue has worked with – the Wirlu Murra Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation – have lost faith with Woodley’s attitude regarding Indigenous heritage.

"Michael Woodley’s actions are obviously motivated by financial outcomes rather than a desire to protect Aboriginal heritage sites," the company said.

"If Mr Woodley cared for heritage as he claims to, he would provide detailed information to the State Government or to Fortescue to ensure important sites are protected. In the four years that Fortescue has been working with Yindjibarndi, he has not done so. Since 2008 he has refused to be part of the process despite Fortescue urging him to do so," Fortescue director of development Peter Meurs said.

The YAC is still the authorised agent for negotiations regarding land and dealings with the Native Title Tribunal.

 Image: Yindjibarndi Organisation

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