MAC: Mines and Communities

The Weekend Essay: Banjima forced to "trade away" its Heritage

Published by MAC on 2020-08-22

We make no excuse for featuring this essay. It traces the current Australia debate over the country's  apportioning - flagrantly and legally - Aboriginal land and resources to mining, regardless of Indigenous rights (guaranteed under ILO and UN rulings) to the territory.

Yet another group has joined the struggle, pointing out its historical and cultural responsibility for preserving a culture that pre-dates the industrial "holocaust" by thousands of years [See also: BHP challenged over sacred site preservation ].


Banjima people caught up in BHP's Pilbara mine expansion say they were
forced to 'trade away' heritage

A Senate inquiry has heard statements from Indigenous elders who risk
losing up to 86 significant sites to the mining giant’s operations

Lorena Allam

The Guardian

19 August 2020

The Banjima people in the Pilbara, who could lose up to 86 significant
sites to BHP’s South Flank iron ore mine expansion, have told a Senate
inquiry that traditional owners have had no choice but to “trade away
their heritage” to mining interests.

The Banjima said they had made a significant contribution to the
prosperity of the nation and “decades of uninterrupted economic growth
for Australians” which should be better recognised and respected.

“The engine room of the Australian resources industry” is located on and
around their lands, the senior Martidja Banyjima elder, Maitland Parker,

“As such, the Banjima people have made a significant and generational
contribution to the prosperity of this nation,” Parker, who is chairman
of the Banjima native title corporation, said.

“It is time that the role of traditional owner groups as valuable
partners to the resource industry is more widely acknowledged and

The Banjima have seven mines, 300km of railway line and hundreds of
exploration tenements on their land, operated by BHP, Rio Tinto and
Hancock. Their relationship with mining companies has been “long and
sometimes difficult”.

“The cumulative destruction of our country is something which sits
uneasily with our people,” Parker said.

BHP have Western Australia’s government approval to destroy more than 40
– and possibly as many as 86 – significant Banjima sites in the central

BHP’s own reports identified sites of art, artefacts and rock shelters
that were occupied between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago, while the
broader area showed occupation “has been ongoing for approximately
40,000 years”. The company has been aware since at least 2019 that the
Banjima do not want any of the sites disturbed.

But under section 18 of the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act, the Banjima
people cannot object, and they cannot raise concerns publicly, having
signed comprehensive agreements with BHP.

The Banjima were critical of such claim-wide agreements, which they say
are common in the Pilbara and were “negotiated in the context of an
imbalance of power”.

All or nothing

“A major global mining corporation negotiating with traditional owner
groups is not usually conducive to an agreement in which Aboriginal
culture and heritage are protected consistent with cultural
obligations,” Parker said.

“In the past, traditional owners negotiating these contracts had no real
choice but to take the deals that were offered or take nothing.”

But the Banjima are working with Rio Tinto and BHP “to ensure a
situation like Juukan Gorge is not repeated”.

“We are working together in what we hope continues to be the spirit of a
true partnership.

“Protection of such sites is not only of incalculable value to
traditional owners and Aboriginal people more broadly, but is also the
cultural inheritance of all humanity.”

In June, Guardian Australia revealed that BHP had approval to destroy
the sites. BHP then issued a clarification that it would not damage any
of them “without further extensive consultation” with the Banjima.

On Tuesday, the BHP chief executive, Mike Henry, said that “deep
consultation” was ongoing, but would not clearly rule out the
possibility that sites could be affected.

“It’s an ongoing process that has continued for many, many years. As new
information comes to light it is shared amongst all parties, and we
revisit past decisions,” Henry told ABC TV.

“I expect that through the process of ongoing engagement, we will land
on decisions that are informed by the views of the Banjima, together
with them.”

In correspondence seen by Guardian Australia, senior elders made it very
clear they do not want any of the sites disturbed.

One Milyarranypa Banjima elder quoted in the letter said he and his
family “are angry about it and don’t support the destruction of those
sites at South Flank under any circumstances”.

The Senate inquiry has been given an exemption to travel to the Pilbara
in September to hold face-to-face hearings with traditional owners.

The inquiry is also seeking access from the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and
Pinikura traditional owners to conduct a site visit at Juukan Gorge to
see the damage firsthand.


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