Rio to fund foundation for Juukan owners

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The traditional owners of the destroyed Juukan Gorge rock shelters say a new foundation funded by Rio Tinto will provide opportunities for future generations.


Rio blew up the 46,000-year-old Juukan caves in May 2020, devastating the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people.

The mining giant had legal permission to destroy the culturally significant site but faced global condemnation and significant investor fallout.

Rio has spent much of the past two years discussing reparations with custodians represented by the PKKP Aboriginal Corporation.

On Monday, the corporation said it had reached agreement with Rio on a new Juukan Gorge Legacy Foundation.

It will fund education and training opportunities and business development, helping custodians to secure greater autonomy and financial independence.

Corporation chair Burchell Hayes said traditional owners did not wish to disclose the financial details.

"The great sense of sorrow and loss will always be with us, but through these initiatives Rio Tinto can further demonstrate a true and meaningful commitment to the PKK people and rebuild a relationship based on valuing our culture, country and our people," he said.

"Nothing can compensate for or replace the loss suffered at Juukan Gorge, so this is an outcome orientated legacy to ensure something positive will come from it for years to come."

Rio said the foundation would progress major projects including a new keeping place for storage of important cultural materials.

"We fell far short of our values as a company and breached the trust placed in us by the PKKP people by allowing the destruction of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters," chief executive Jakob Stausholm said.

"As we work hard to rebuild our relationship, I would like to thank the PKKP people, their elders, and the corporation for their guidance and leadership in forming this important agreement."

The remedy talks between the two parties have also focused on ongoing rehabilitation of the rock shelters and their surrounds, as well as a new approach to co-management of mining which is yet to be finalised.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek last week presented the federal government's response to a parliamentary report on the incident, labelling the destruction "unthinkable" and pledging it will never happen again.

The government has committed to developing standalone First Nations cultural heritage legislation, to be co-designed with Indigenous people.

The response drew criticism from the PKKP Aboriginal Corporation, which said it had not been properly consulted.

Ms Plibersek said her office had attempted to engage with the corporation and offered a meeting with its chief executive.

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