Rio signs MoU to boost Indigenous economic independence

Rio Tinto’s Gove Operations and the Gumatj Aboriginal Corporation have signed a memorandum of understanding to complete a feasibility study for bauxite mining on Gumatj lands in the Northern Territory.

The move has been welcomed by Indigenous leaders in northeast Arnhem Land who are eager to see their communities become economically independent, The West Australian reports.

Pending the feasibility study’s results, the mine would be owned and operated by the Gumatj Aboriginal Corporation.

Indigenous community leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu welcomed the news saying it will allow Aboriginal people to commercially develop their land and improve their ability to become self-sufficient.

He explained Indigenous people wish to have the same opportunities as non-indigenous people, to earn income from their properties.

"You're earning money, banking money, and you see your money … it grows, it grows," he said.

"That's the way of living Aboriginal people want, too. My word, we would like to try that."

Gove Operations general manager Ryan Cavanagh explained promoting economic independence amongst the Yolngu people is a key commitment in the 2011 Gove traditional owners agreement.

Providing support to the Gumatj Aboriginal Corporation, Gove Operations will assist in the development of a sustainable bauxite mine, including the execution of an exploration program to firm up resource estimates on Gumatj land.

"This is an important step for the Gumatj, to own and operate a bauxite mine on their country," Cavanagh said.

Industrial scientist and former manager of mining projects at the Northern Land Council, Dr Howard Smith said the connection Indigenous people have with the land makes them ideal mine workers.

"They know where to go, where not to go, which plants need to be here, which animals need to be there, and they can construct the mine according to their needs," Smith said.

"The question over the Rio Tinto and Gumatj memorandum of understanding is how much influence Rio will have over the process; how (big) will the compromise be?"

Smith said assisting Aboriginal people to run their own businesses will reduce the reliance on public funding.

"It's an old story in Australia that people are too reliant on government funding for many things, but people are on the right track here," Smith said.

"If you have a mine or some decent-sized income, production of oil or gas, there's nothing to stop the communities having their own private school or private health clinic as long as the money's there – but the money has to come from somewhere."

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