Blak and Black received the following from the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) last week. It is reprinted here in full and describes the damage to traditional sacred sites. Follow the links to see the videos uploaded by YAC.
MEDIA STATEMENT 7 November 2011
Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation
Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation
Unlawful FMG heritage dealing & massive sites damage at Solomon Project
The Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation is calling on Tony Burke, Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities to take action under the emergency powers of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act to stop the destruction by Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) of Yindjibarndi sacred sites and ‘living heritage’ areas that are used by Yindjibarndi people each year for their Birdarra religious ceremonies, which date back thousands of years.
The Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation has received evidence showing FMG forced heritage consultants to change a heritage report about the significance of the area by threatening to withhold payments on their invoices “if we did not comply” with FMG’s request. The ‘unedited’ report also pointed out that a consultant anthropologist engaged by FMG to assess the ethnographic significance of the area, had spoken only to a breakaway group of Yindjibarndi people who support FMG but who know nothing about the area; and that this consultant had failed to take into account the evidence given to and accepted by the NNTT concerning the significance of the sites for religious ceremonies.
“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”, Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation CEO, Michael Woodley, said. “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.”
In a judgement delivered on 12 August 2011, regarding the validity of the grant of the Firetail mining lease to FMG by the WA State government, the Full Court of the Federal Court confirmed that it had been accepted by all parties that the collection of sacred stones and ochre from sites within this lease are religious practices; and those practices would be prevented if FMG was allowed to mine the Firetail area.
Despite this clear acknowledgement, the Full Court held that the National Native Title Tribunal (NNTT) had acted correctly in allowing the grant this mining lease because the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act protects all Aboriginal sites; and FMG could therefore not damage these Yindjibarndi sites without first obtaining the consent of the Minister.
On 23 October YAC representatives travelled to the Firetail lease to check on the safety of their sites, but were denied access by FMG security guards for “safety reasons”, because a blasting program and massive ground disturbance were under way. On 28 October Michael Woodley took time out from Birdarra ceremonies to travel to the area with other senior Yindjibarndi Lawmen, avoiding FMG checkpoints by using an ancient “freeway” – known only to the most senior carriers of Yindjibarndi law. To their horror they found the landscape mutilated and sites damaged.
Mr Woodley said, “FMG has done this against all warnings and advice from the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation, the authorised representative of the Yindjibarndi people. They were clearly advised by the Minister that they should conduct heritage surveys with YAC but have failed to do so. Instead they have given misleading reports to the ACMC and DIA designed to confuse the regulatory process, and to dismiss the religious, cultural and historic importance of our sacred sites in the Firetail lease.”
YAC has tried to negotiate an agreement with FMG that is in line with mining industry standards for compensation, and that ensures comprehensive surveys and protection measures for Yindjibarndi culture are in place before mining commences. However, instead of negotiating an equitable heritage and land access agreement, FMG have implemented a series of divide and conquer actions designed to break the will of the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation by seeding misinformation and fear in the community; and unleashing a program of SLAP (Strategic Litigation Against Plaintiffs) actions that are having enormous impact on YAC finances and its ability to deal with an unrelenting barrage of administrative and legal issues.
These events show FMG conduct to be unethical and in breech of the State Aboriginal Heritage Act. FMG’s conduct is a direct assault on the 40,000 year-old traditions and heritage of the Yindjibarndi people and contravenes the most fundamental international human rights covenants. These actions by FMG demand that Federal Minister Tony Burke uses his power to stop FMG’s massive program of sites violation.
Mr Woodley said, “The world threw up its arms in horror when the Taliban blew up Buddhist statues in Afghanistan. How will Australia respond to desecration of our cultural sites that date back tens of thousands of years, right here, under their noses?”
Mr Woodley will be seeking leave to directly address shareholders and investors at this Wednesday’s FMG AGM, to present evidence of their appalling conduct and to ask that the Fortescue board and executive is held to account, and ordered to abide by basic business ethics.
EVIDENCE: Documents, photos, video and maps available for download at:
Michael Woodley – 0419 097 130
CEO Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation, Roebourne, WA
Phil Davies – 0429 110 451
For background & research materials please visit: www.yindjibarndi.org.au
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