Unlawful mutilation of heritage sites by Fortescue Metals

Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation

The Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) is calling on Federal Minister, Tony Burke, to invoke emergency powers to stop the destruction by Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) of Yindjibarndi sacred sites and 'living heritage' areas that date back thousands of years.

YAC has received evidence showing FMG forced heritage consultants to change a heritage report about the significance of the area by threatening to withhold payments on their invoices.

On 23 October YAC representatives travelled to FMG's Firetail lease (Solomon Project) to check on the safety of their sites, but were barred by FMG security guards for "safety reasons", because a blasting program was under way. On 28 October Michael Woodley and other senior Yindjibarndi Lawmen took time out from Birdarra ceremonies to travel into the area, avoiding FMG checkpoints. To their horror they found the landscape mutilated and sites damaged.

FMG's conduct is a direct assault on the 40,000 year-old traditions and heritage of the Yindjibarndi people and contravenes the most fundamental international human rights covenants. These actions show FMG conduct to be unethical and in breech of the State Aboriginal Heritage Act.

Mr Woodley said, "The world threw up its arms in horror when the Taliban blew up Buddhist statues in Afghanistan. How will Australia respond to desecration of our cultural sites that date back tens of thousands of years, right here, under their noses?"

This Wednesday 9 November, Mr Woodley will be seeking leave to directly address shareholders and investors at FMG's AGM, to present evidence of their appalling conduct and to ask that the Fortescue board and executive be held to account, and ordered to abide by basic business ethics.

FMG AGM Venue: Hyatt Regency Perth, 99 Adelaide Terrace, East Perth - Wed 9 Nov 2011at 11.00AM

Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation
MEDIA RELEASE

7 November 2011

Unlawful FMG heritage dealing and massive sites damage at Solomon Project The Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation is calling on Tony Burke, Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities to take action under the emergency powers of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act to stop the destruction by Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) of Yindjibarndi sacred sites and 'living heritage' areas that are used by Yindjibarndi people each year for their Birdarra religious ceremonies, which date back thousands of years.

The Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation has received evidence showing FMG forced heritage consultants to change a heritage report about the significance of the area by threatening to withhold payments on their invoices "if we did not comply" with FMG's request. The 'unedited' report also pointed out that a consultant anthropologist engaged by FMG to assess the ethnographic significance of the area, had spoken only to a breakaway group of Yindjibarndi people who support FMG but who know nothing about the area; and that this consultant had failed to take into account the evidence given to and accepted by the NNTT concerning the significance of the sites for religious ceremonies.

"In its rush to develop its Firetail mine in the Solomon Project, FMG has abused the process of heritage protection, and now has damaged an ochre quarry and an ancient creek bed where we collect sacred stones and ochre each year for our ceremonies", Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation CEO, Michael Woodley, said. "FMG can't deny knowing about these sites because we have been fighting about them for nearly three years, first in the Native Title Tribunal and then in the Federal Court."

In a judgement delivered on 12 August 2011, regarding the validity of the grant of the Firetail mining lease to FMG by the WA State government, the Full Court of the Federal Court confirmed that it had been accepted by all parties that the collection of sacred stones and ochre from sites within this lease are religious practices; and those practices would be prevented if FMG was allowed to mine the Firetail area.

Despite this clear acknowledgement, the Full Court held that the National Native Title Tribunal (NNTT) had acted correctly in allowing the grant this mining lease because the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act protects all Aboriginal sites; and FMG could therefore not damage these Yindjibarndi sites without first obtaining the consent of the Minister to do so.

On 23 October YAC representatives travelled to the Firetail lease to check on the safety of their sites, but were denied access by FMG security guards for "safety reasons", because a blasting program and massive ground disturbance were under way. On 28 October Michael Woodley took time out from Birdarra ceremonies to travel to the area with other senior Yindjibarndi Lawmen, avoiding FMG checkpoints by using an ancient "freeway" - known only to the most senior carriers of Yindjibarndi law. To their horror they found the landscape mutilated and sites damaged.

Mr Woodley said, "FMG has done this against all warnings and advice from the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation, the authorised representative of the Yindjibarndi people. They were clearly advised by the Minister that they should conduct heritage surveys with YAC but have failed to do so. Instead they have given misleading reports to the ACMC and DIA designed to confuse the regulatory process, and to dismiss the religious, cultural and historic importance of our sacred sites in the Firetail lease."

YAC has tried to negotiate an agreement with FMG that is in line with mining industry standards for compensation, and that ensures comprehensive surveys and protection measures for Yindjibarndi culture are in place before mining commences. However, instead of negotiating an equitable heritage and land access agreement, FMG have implemented a series of divide and conquer actions designed to break the will of the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation by seeding misinformation and fear in the community; and unleashing`
a program of SLAP (Strategic Litigation Against Plaintiffs) actions that are having enormous impact on YAC finances and its ability to deal with an unrelenting barrage of administrative and legal issues.

These events show FMG conduct to be unethical and in breech of the State Aboriginal Heritage Act. FMG's conduct is a direct assault on the 40,000 year-old traditions and heritage of the Yindjibarndi people and contravenes the most fundamental international human rights covenants. These actions by FMG demand that Federal Minister Tony Burke uses his power to stop FMG's massive program of sites violation.

Fortescue AGM overshadowed by Aboriginal stoush

Rania Spooner Sydney Morning Herald November 10th, 2011

A mining royalty rift with a Pilbara-based Aboriginal family was the only cloud that hung over Fortescue Metals' otherwise positive annual general meeting held in Perth yesterday.

Members from the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation, who have been in a three-year stoush with Fortescue over its Solomon Hub, held a quiet protest outside the shareholder meeting.

Meanwhile a breakaway group of their relatives, the Wirlu-Murra, were ushered inside.

"As a matter of law the only entity FMG is entitled to negotiate any agreement with is YAC," YAC legal counsel George Irving told FMG negotiator Blair McGlew.

"I'm not a lawyer but even I know that's wrong," Mr McGlew retorted.

Following the meeting Fortescue chief executive Nev Power formally announced an agreement had been reached with the Wirlu-Murra.

"The YAC have had plenty of opportunity to make their point and we understand their position, but we have done an agreement with the majority of the Yindibarndi people through the Wirla-murra Yindibarndi Corporation," Mr Power said.

Inside the AGM it was business as usual.

Former chief executive turned chairman Andrew Forrest walked shareholders through Fortescue's major expansion plans, which included massive infrastructure projects, some of which were already underway for Fortescue's output goal of 155 million tonnes of ore per annum by 2013.

Fortescue employment programs in South Hedland and Roebourne, where many of the Yindibarndi people live, have put 1000 Aboriginal people through training while another centre is to be established in Fitzroy Crossing, shareholders were told.

Mr Power said Fortescue's $1.2 billion profit for the last financial year came after only three years of production.

"When you look at the history over the last year or so of our business you can see it's become extremely boring, nothing but consistent performance quarter after quarter and then rapid ramp up when we bring on the new system and plants," he said.

"Our aim is to keep that boredom in there and to keep that consistency running."

Then Mr Power turned to the elephant outside the room.

"First of all I would like to say that we have reached an agreement with the majority of the Yindibarndi Community who have supported the project and I welcome members of that community here today,' Mr Power said of the Wirlu-Murra deal.

"Our strategy at Fortescue and our policy has been, and always will be, to develop independence in the Aboriginal communities where we work through providing genuine jobs, training and support and not through welfare."

Mr Power said Fortescue has signed $57 million worth of contracts and joint venture agreements with the Yindibarndi Community.

"We are off to a flying start with this community and we look forward to further developing this relationship with them," he said.

Outside, YAC chief executive Michael Woodley said he had been in discussions with Mr Power before the AGM and had agreed to call off yesterday's vigil if Mr Power would negotiate with his group.

"He then confirmed that he has signed an agreement with the breakaway group," he said, describing the move as "very disappointing".

Mr Woodley said the Wirlu-murra who he calls "the breakaways" were "my own blood, my own family."

Shortly after the AGM the YAC filed an emergency application to halt mining activity at the Solomon Hub with federal Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities Tony Burke claiming sacred Aboriginal sites were at risk.

Yindjibarndi sites disturbed by FMG - Youtube Yindjibarndi sites disturbed by FMG Video by Yindjibarndi Media