Yindjibarndi people say they’re unsure if burial grounds, sacred sites at FMG’s Solomon Hub are safe

ABC Pilbara / By Tom Robinson and Amelia Searson – Posted Fri 8 Jul

Original story on the ABC here

Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Michael Woodley says thousands of significant sites could be at risk. ABC Pilbara: Amelia Searson

Key points:

  • Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation says 5,000 sacred sites within Fortescue Metals Group’s Solomon Hub could be at risk
  • YAC has lodged a native title compensation claim against FMG in the courts
  • FMG says it works to avoid damaging Aboriginal heritage during its mining operations

Aboriginal people in northern Western Australia say they are stuck in limbo, unsure whether 5,000 sacred sites have been destroyed by one of the country’s richest mining companies.

In the state’s Pilbara region, the iron ore industry has made hundreds of billions of dollars for the nation’s economy, exporting minerals from land which is home to countless sacred Aboriginal sites.

In the centre of the region sits the Solomon Hub, which is owned by Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group (FMG), and is the subject of a bitter legal dispute between the company and the region’s traditional Yindjibarndi owners.

Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) chief executive Michael Woodley said the hub contained thousands of sacred sites such as birthplaces, rock shelters and burial grounds.

A remote mine hub in the middle of the Pilbara.

FMG’s Solomon mine hub is in the middle of the Pilbara.

He said they were identified through YAC’s recently-launched compensation action against FMG.

In 2020 the High Court confirmed YAC represents native title holders for the area where the hub operates, paving the way for the compensation claim based on economic and cultural loss.

Mr Woodley said he does not know if the sites have been damaged because FMG has engaged a breakaway Yindjibarndi group for its heritage consultation for more than 10 years.

He said traditional owners have cultural obligations to keep sacred sites safe, and being kept in the dark was causing distress to his organisation’s members.

“The thing that keeps the Yindjibarndi functioning is that they know exactly what’s happening on their country,” he said.

“If they don’t know, then they can’t fulfil the obligation and responsibilities of being the … people who speak and make decisions for our heritage.”

Sites subject to claim

Mr Woodley said FMG has worked with the breakaway group, called Wirlu-Murra Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation, which has received significant funding from the mining giant.

He hopes the compensation process in the courts will force FMG to reveal if the 5,000 sites have been damaged.

“It’s kind of extraordinary that these sites have been identified,” he said.

“And now we want to know what happened to them.”

The ABC understands mining companies can restrict access to active sites for all people, including traditional owners, for safety reasons.

Minderoo Foundation chairman Andrew Forrest stands in the laboratory speaking with visitors.

Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest built his fortune with FMG.

Read more on the ABC — here