The investigation is examining the destruction of two sacred rock shelters in Pilbara’s Juukan Gorge back in May 2020 as part of iron ore mining operations. The Juukan caves showed archaeological signs of being inhabited for 46,000 years.
Rio Tinto received permission to blast the caves in 2013 from former WA Aboriginal affairs minister, Peter Collier. The inquiry seeks to establish whether the approval was valid, with the area under moratorium.
According to The Guardian, Rio Tinto has permission to destroy 26 of the 124 heritage sites – which are less than 100 km from the Juukan Gorge – some of which may predate the Ice Age. The Yinhawangka Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) is trying to prevent the destruction of these heritage sites.
The mining company is also facing a potential compensation claim from the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura peoples, who are Traditional Owners of the land.