MAC: Mines and Communities

Miner, clan feuding over ‘sacred rock’

Published by MAC on 2004-10-27

A seemingly minor dispute over a boundary fence at Rio Tinto's huge Lihir gold mine may cut to the heart of the power imbalance between the company and Indigenous landowners.

Miner, clan feuding over ‘sacred rock’

by Baeau Tai, The National (Papua New Guinea)

27 October 2004

The Tinetalgo clan of Lihir that owns large portions of land where the giant Lihir gold mine operates has expressed disappointment with the Lihir Management Company (LMC) over the agreed boundary to where the Alaia Rock stands today.

The Alaia Rock is a sacred site surrounded by the masalai site "kokoz" for the Tinetalgo clan. The rock is unique so the boundary must be agreed to by the Tinetalgo clan according to the Lihir custom. The clan believes the boundary in which LMC has cleared for the construction of a fence recently, is not the old government walking track as it was previously agreed to between LMC and the Tinetalgo clan.

Tinetalgo clan elder and chairman of the Lihir Mining Area Landowners Association, Mark Soipang, said the clan believes LMC had gone ahead and prepared a document without the consent from the main Tinetalgo clan and made the sub-clan Likiamba to sign it on Thursday, Aug 5 2004.

Sub-clan Likiamba is currently the custodian of the rock on behalf of the main Tinetalgo clan. "When there is a dispute over the Government old walking track between LMC and Tinetalgo clan, the Lihir custom must rule and prevail in and that some form of traditional signs through gorgor (traditional bush plant) must be put in place, to prevent the conduct of mining and other activities," Mr Soipang said..

Mining Minister Sam Akoitai has confirmed the old government walking track is in fact the correct boundary of the Alaia and that LMC could carry out activities only up to that point.

"As a responsible Government, we have to ensure than all parties to agreements that are sanctioned by the State are treated fairly in accordance with such agreements," Mr Akoitai said. The initial agreement was done after a customary feast performed by the Tinetalgo clan over the area on June 26-27, 1996 at Siatnuz Hamlet, to commemorate the loss of the Malasai sites (traditional customary land) and to protect those sites around the Ailia from any destructions.

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