Juukan inquiry looks into Glencore NT mine
The Juukan Gorge inquiry has been told Aboriginal sacred sites are under threat at Glencore's massive Northern Territory lead and zinc mine.
The parliamentary committee inquiry into the destruction of 46,000-year-old caves in Western Australia on Friday heard evidence from traditional owners of McArthur River Mine lease.
The mine - about 750km southeast of Darwin - has been dogged by environmental incidents and alleged damage to cultural sites over the past four decades.
Yanyuwa/Garrwa/Gurdanji woman Joy Priest said her late father Leo Finlay, who was a former Northern Land Council deputy chair, fought to protect the land from the mine in the 1970s but was unsuccessful.
"Forty years later, that mining company has still got us like sardines in a tin, and they still got all their interests protected," she said.
"But we are left exposed with our sacred sites unprotected."
Garawa elder and Borroloola Aboriginal leader Jack Green said traditional owners were fighting to make MRM and the government understand that the mine is destroying cultural significant Aboriginal land
"Where they've got the mine site it's right in the middle of six very important sacred sites, they're all connected under a rainbow snake that they've dug in half," he said.
"It's a mother for Aboriginal people and the river itself is a garden to all nations, white or black.
"There's a songline that ties us to the area. We are not going to go away."
Mr Green said Aboriginal people needed to be treated with respect and consulted over future development at the mine.
The inquiry heard MRM had recently invited traditional owners to visit the site but had previously twice called police who blocked traditional owners from visiting their country near the mine.
"It's not their land. They're squatters. They pinched the land from the Aboriginal people. They should recognise that this is our country and our lore and culture," Mr Green said.
Gudanji traditional owner for sacred sites within the mine's lease Josie Davey said the mine had destroyed her great grandfather's country.
"I can't go back there. We're not being recognised. They (MRM) don't talk to us and let us know what they're doing. We feel like we're left behind," she said.
Traditional owners are also concerned over MRM's plans to increase the size of a waste rock dump from 80 to 140 metres high and move an archaeologically significant stone tool quarry.
It previously made an expansion agreement with six traditional owners, promising each an $85,000 car and monthly food and fuel vouchers.
But the NT Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority refused to issue an Authority Certificate to allow the mine to lawfully carry out the work over consultation concerns.
Glencore appealed to NT Heritage Minister Chansey Paech to override that decision but has since agreed to start talks with the NLC and traditional owners.
Unlike most mines in northern Australia, McArthur River has never had a comprehensive native title agreement despite diverting a river to expand its operations.
The company now hopes to negotiate an Indigenous Land Usage Agreement for the mine and the Bing Bong loading facility on the Gulf of Carpentaria.
A recent University of NSW report said waste rock at the mine had emitted sulphur dioxide plumes and a leaking tailings dam was seeping metal and acid into the McArthur River system
Researchers also found 22 Indigenous sacred sites were potentially under threat from the mining operations, including the Djirrinmini waterhole, which is believed to be a breeding site for critically endangered sawfish.
Glencore said it acknowledged its historical actions remained a source of sadness.
"We want to work with traditional owners to provide access to, and continue to improve management and protection of, cultural heritage and sacred sites on our mining lease," mine manager Steven Rooney said in a statement.
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