New guides to help protect First Nations cultural heritage

Brendan Foster

The First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance has launched the Dhawura Ngilan business and investor guides to prevent the repeat of the destruction of the 46,000-year-old rock shelter at Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara.

After the Juukan Gorge Caves on the lands of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura peoples were destroyed by mining giant Rio Tinto in 2020, a historic meeting was held by First Nations leaders around Australia to pursue national reforms to stop it from ever happening again.

First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance (FNHPA) co-chair Kado Muir said the new guides will go a long way to protect First Nations cultural heritage.

The guides, inspired by Dhawura Ngilan (‘Remembering Country’ in the Ngunnawal Language) were drafted by legal firm Terri Janke & Company, in consultation with First Nations, business and investment groups.

The guides outline the steps businesses should take to uphold the principles of free, prior and informed consent and address the due diligence investors should undertake to manage the legal, financial and reputational risks associated with First Nations cultural heritage.

“Today’s launch of the Dhawura Ngilan Business and Investor Guides heralds a new period in Australia’s business relations, with commitment from the private sector to reach beyond legislative standards and implement leading practice for cultural heritage as defined by First Nations peoples,” Mr Muir said.

PKKP Aboriginal Corporation chair Merle Ashburton, whose organisation represents the Traditional Owners of Juukan Gorge, said it was encouraging to see so many companies implementing the guides.

Over the next 12-18 months several businesses and investors, including BHP are planning to implement guides to put the First Nations-led advice into action.

“It’s encouraging to see some companies will go beyond legislative compliance,” said Ms Ashburton.

“The private sector must not wait for laws to catch up to community expectations regarding the right of Traditional Owners to Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).”

Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said heritage protection was everyone’s business.

“Government can lead, but what we have seen is that business and the general population care – and they will act,” she said.

“Dhawura Ngilan identifies litigation risks, reputational risks, and operation risks that business can minimise or avoid with good quality, upfront consultation.”

BHP is providing $1.2 million in funding to support the Initiative’s work plan.

Lendlease, HESTA, KPMG Australia, and Perpetual are also supporting the work of the initiative.

FNHPA is a coalition of member organisations representing First Nations Peoples from across Australia, including major Native Title, Land Rights, Traditional Owner, and community-controlled organisations nationally.