Rio Tinto, indigenous land owners begin rebuilding ties after sacred cave blast

FILE PHOTO: A sign adorns the building where mining company Rio Tinto has their office in Perth, Western Australia, November 19, 2015. REUTERS/David Gray

(Reuters) -Rio Tinto Ltd and Indigenous Australians said on Thursday they had taken initial steps towards rebuilding their relationship after the miner destroyed sacred Aboriginal caves in Western Australia in May.

The destruction of the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge rock shelters by Rio Tinto to make way for a mine expansion led to intense public criticism and an inquiry that eventually caused the departure of a number of top-level executives including its chief executive officer.

A joint session of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people (PKKP), the traditional owners of the land, and Rio Tinto boards had been held to reaffirm the miner’s apology and commitment to rebuilding the relationship, a joint statement said.

“While there has been some important progress made in the relationship so far, we are not underestimating the time it will take to genuinely work together and achieve the mutual objectives of this partnership,” they said.

PKKP said it was encouraged by the steps Rio Tinto had taken to address “the hurt and devastation” caused by the miner’s actions, but that they were the first of many that would be needed to ensure the destruction of cultural heritage sites would never be repeated.

PKKP also noted the appointment of Rio’s new chief executive officer, Jakob Stausholm, and said it hoped that discussions between both parties would continue in a positive direction.

The miner last week named sitting Chief Financial Officer Stausholm as its new chief from Jan. 1, 2021, tasking him with taking further steps to improve the miner’s image and heal ties with local groups.