The site, at Juukan Gorge, in the resource-rich Pilbara region of the state of Western Australia, features two cave systems that contain artifacts that indicate tens of thousands of years of continuous human occupation.
The May 24 demolition continued despite seven years of fighting by local land guards, Puutu Kunti Kurrama and the Pinikura People, to protect the site.
“We pay homage to Puutu Kunti Kurrama and the Pinikura People (PKKP),” Rio Tinto’s Iron Ore CEO Chris Salisbury said in a statement released Sunday.
“We are sorry for the hardships we caused. Our relationship with PKKP is very meaningful for Rio Tinto, who has worked together for years,” the statement said.
“We will continue to work with PKKP to learn from what has happened and strengthen our partnership. As an urgent matter, we are reviewing the plans of all the other sites in the Juukan Gorge area.”
According to 7News, a spokesman for Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation Burchell Hayes said Rio Tinto was informed of the importance of the site last October.
“The high significance of this site was subsequently forwarded to Rio Tinto by PKKPAC recently in March,” Hayes said.
He said the group only learned about Rio Tinto’s intentions on May 15. CNN Business contacted Rio Tinto to comment on Hayes’s statement and was directed back to the company’s statement.
Federal Customary Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt said “the destruction should not have happened,” adding that he had personally spoken to the traditional owner of the land.
“It’s very important this doesn’t happen again,” said Wyatt, a native of Australia.
“The State Government of Western Australia needs to ensure that the legislation process and their agreement protect our Indigenous cultural heritage. It seems quite clear, that in this case, the law has failed.”
Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the country’s first leader who apologized to generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were forcibly taken by their parents by white Australians last century, said “the arrogance of the Rio Tinto company has robbed all Australians. “
“Juvenile Gorge refuge [are] “nine times older than Stonehenge, 23 times older than the Colosseum and 75 times older than Machu Picchu,” he wrote on his official Twitter account.
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