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  • Among the damaging activities listed in the claim are lands and groundwater licenses granted to mining companies

    Among the damaging activities listed in the claim are lands and groundwater licenses granted to mining companies | Photo: AFP/Saeed Khan

Published 19 June 2020
Opinion

Section 18 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act legalizes the destruction of aboriginal sites in Australia

The aboriginal group Tjiwarl has filed a claim against the  Western Australia government for cultural losses on land granted to businesses and particularly mining, in the state's goldfield regions, the group's chief executive Friday said.

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Two compensation claims filed on behalf of the Tjiwarl people address actions by miners, farmers, and others like the building of fences and roads that had restricted their access to sacred heritage sites and hunting and fishing grounds, impeding their ability to pass down cultural knowledge to young people.

Greg Ryan-Gadsden, chief executive of the Tjiwarl Aboriginal Corporation, remarked that "something so wonderful that has been preserved for tens of thousands of years is potentially at risk."

The action comes as a response after on June 4, 2020, Western Australia's Government ruled out further protections for Aboriginal heritage sites at risk of demolition following the destruction of a 46,000-year-old site in the Pilbara, a region well known for his vast mineral deposits, particularly iron, as well as its global biodiversity hotspot for subterranean fauna.

Section 18 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act legalizes the destruction of aboriginal sites. Under this legal protection, the mining company Rio Tinto confirmed on May 24, 2020, that it had detonated explosives near two culturally significant sites, the Juukan 1 and Juukan 2 rock shelters, highly regarded by specialists and the community for his archaeological value.

It is estimated that the site was occupied for more than 46,000 years, including through the last ice age, when most inland sites in northwest Australia were deserted as people fled to the coast.

Among the activities listed in the claim as the reasons for the loss of land, are lands and groundwater licenses granted to mining companies, like BHP Group, and a highway development project.

The Tjiwarl Aboriginal Corporation, which is the complainant, claims nearly over 7,800 sq kilometers as part of their aboriginal title. This includes the town of Leinster and several cultural sites dating as far back as 10,000 years or more.

"We can't access all of the areas, and this causes a lot of shame for our people because we can't meet our cultural responsibilities. This case will be about the cultural value, the special value of the country," Ryan-Gadsden said.

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