Fortescue Metals Group has hit out at the claims it forced the change of an Aboriginal heritage survey and damaged sacred indigenous sites, stating that it is part of a malicious campaign against the company.
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
"Reports prepared by archaeologists suggest that there are a number of carvings, rock art, ceremonial stone arrangements, human remains and other artifacts in the area," Siewert said.
Michael Woodley, the head of the YAC, has also claimed that Fortescue has attempted to force heritage consultants to alter statements on the impact of mining in the region, according to News Tonight.
"I’m hoping that the executives, [Fortescue MD] Nev Power and chairman Andrew ‘Tiwggy’ Forrest, would probably extend the same courtesy to me to come and then address their shareholders about some of the activities that are happening on my country," Woodley said.
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.
"It soon became very clear that, if we did not comply, FMGL would withhold payment of our previous, outstanding and well overdue invoices on the basis that FMGL could not be expected to pay for a report that they could not use. At the time there were a number of invoices that were already overdue for payment, amounting, in Eureka’s case to $70,000.00," Singleton said.
However Fortescue has rubbished these claims.
The miner says it has spent millions on protecting and avoiding significant Aboriginal heritage sites at its Solomon Hub project as well as its other operations.
"Fortescue has followed and complied with the legal and regulatory requirements of the Aboriginal Heritage Act at every step of the process," the company stated.
"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 that these claims are part of an ongoing campaign by the aforementioned Michael Woodley, head of the YAC, "who no longer has the support of the majority of the Yindjibarndi community and who has repeatedly failed at numerous points to provide proof to support his claims".
Fortescue said that Woodley’s allegations against the miner have been reviewed by the Government and judicial system and have been found to have no basis.
Most recently, Woodley lost a high court case against the miner in which he sought to have operations stopped amidst claims that Fortescue had damaged sacred sites.
“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.
Referring to a case in the Native Title Tribunal between Fortescue and Woodley, the miner quoted member Dan O’Shea who stated “ … I am now quite unclear as to whether … Mr Woodley is referring to the four particular sites … or some other ochre sites which have not been identified … I am not prepared … to make conditions in relation to sites … which are not precisely located.”
The company went on to say that it had provided full disclosure on all of the 241 Aboriginal heritage sites indentified on Yindjibarndi country.
"These sites have been identified by Yindjibarndi traditional owners and qualified archaeologists and anthropologists. All reports have been provided to YAC to allow them to comment on or add to the vast heritage knowledge contained with them. They have never done so."
The Government is yet to respond to the claims.