An Australian Aboriginal group said on Tuesday that Fortescue Metals FMG.AX is withholding nearly A$2 million ($1.4 million) in royalty payments until it signs off on mining leases that cover areas containing many sacred sites.
The country of the Eastern Guruma, or Wintawari Guruma, people is one of the most heavily explored areas in Australia, with more than 93% covered by mining tenements, the Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation (WGAC), said.
The group estimates at least 434 heritage sites on their land have already been destroyed through mining, while 285 more are close to mining operations and inaccessible to traditional owners.
Fortescue’s Solomon Hub, which has production capacity of 75 million tonnes per annum, or about 40% of the miner’s production, is on Eastern Guruma land, along with some 90 kilometres of its Eliwana railway.
The group has asked for more information before they approve new leases Fortescue has applied for, WGAC director Joselyn Hicks told an Australian parliamentary inquiry on Tuesday.
The inquiry is looking at how Rio Tinto RIO.AX legally destroyed sacred rock shelters showing 46,000 years of human habitation as part of an iron ore mine expansion in Western Australia in May.
Hicks said traditional owners had not known the level of destruction of their country that would result when they signed agreements with miners Fortescue and Rio Tinto.
“We did not know that over 400 of our sites would be destroyed. We did not know that our sacred springs would dry up. We did not know that we would be locked out of our own country.”
By Melanie Burton;