Greens claim Fortescue damaging Aboriginal sites

 The Greens are urging the Federal Government to act on claims that Fortescue is damaging Aboriginal heritage sites in the Pilbara.

According to Greens senator Rachel Siewert, there is concern for the miner’s work at its Firetail and Solomon 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".

Siewert has pushed for environment minister Tony Burke to respond to an application for emergency protection of the area.

"The Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) has asked Minister Burke to utilise these emergency powers amid concerns that activities will desecrate ancestral burial grounds," Siewert stated

"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."

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.

"In its rush to develop its Firetail mine in the Solomon Project, FMG has abused the process of heritage protection and now has damaged an ochre quarry and an ancient creek bed where we collect sacred stones and ochre each year for our ceremonies.

"FMG can’t deny knowing about these sites because we have been fighting about them for nearly three years, first in the Native Title Tribunal and then in the Federal Court," he told WA Today.

However, Fortescue has rejected the claims wholesale.

The miner’s development director Peter Meurs stated that "we have spent many millions of dollars to protect and avoid significant Aboriginal heritage sites at the Solomon Hub and will continue to do so.

Meurs went on say that Woodley’s allegations of deliberately changing heritage consultant reports are "spurious and mischievous.

"Fortescue requested the correction of unqualified commentary in the report in question.

"Both the original and corrected versions of the report were submitted to the Department of Indigenous Affairs."

Fortescue have had a long running battle with some elements of the indigenous inhabitants, as there are arguments over who are the actual representatives of the land.

The YAC claim that Fortescue have been dealing a breakaway group, the Wirlu-Murra group, despite the fact Wirlu-murra outnumbers the YAC by about two to one, according to the SMH.

It took an appeal over Fortescue’s native title dealings and mining leases to the High Court, where its claim was unanimously dismissed.

As part of the mining leases, Fortescue offered the local aboriginal community $10 million annually in education, training, infrastructure and cash as compensation.

However, it announced it would only provide $4 million per year in cash.

Former Fortescue chief Twiggy stated that it was focused on the reconstruction of the local community and township or Roeburne.

While the offer was accepted by parts of the indigenous community, the Wirlu-Murra Yindjibarndi people, it was rejected wholesale by the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC), which said it preferred a deal similar to those Rio Tinto has made with other traditional land owners of .5% in uncapped royalties.

But the miner stated it would not increase its cash component.
“It’s not going to happen because we know it’s not going to do any good (for the community)," Fortescue CEO Neville Power said.

"We’ve done everything we could possibly do to try to reach an agreement and in fact, we have reached an agreement with the majority of the Yindjibarndi to that deal.

He went on to say the YAC is "trying to exercise power over the whole deal".

Negotiations hit a low point early in the year when it was reported that Twiggy had received death threats from members of the community.

Minister Burke has yet to respond to the application.


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