High-level talks have been held between Rio Tinto and the traditional owners of the Juukan Gorge rock shelter in an attempt to repair their relationship.
Rio blew up the 46,000-year-old caves in Western Australia’s Pilbara region in May to extract $188 million worth of high-grade iron ore, devastating the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) people.
Federal MPs this month slammed the “inexcusable” destruction and recommended Rio compensate the PKKP.
The two parties issued a joint statement on Thursday, saying they had begun remedial works at the sacred site.
A joint session of the PKKP and Rio boards has been held “to reaffirm Rio Tinto’s apology and commitment to rebuilding our relationship”.
Kurrama elder Burchell Hayes acknowledged the mining giant had taken steps to address the “hurt and devastation” caused by its actions but said they were the first of many needed to ensure such an incident was never repeated.
“While we have made some initial positive steps in rebuilding our relationship, there is so much more we need to do in order to shape a shared future for our next generations of PKKP people working with Rio Tinto,” he said in the statement.
Rio this week appointed Danish citizen Jakob Stausholm as its new chief executive, replacing Jean-Sebastien Jacques.
Mr Jacques, corporate relations chief Simone Niven and iron ore boss Chris Salisbury resigned in September amid significant investor pressure.
Rio, which derives significant earnings from iron ore operations in WA, had faced political pressure to appoint an Australian to the top job.
“We know we have a lot of work to do in order to rebuild trust and confidence in our business,” acting iron ore chief Ivan Vella said.
“I look forward to continuing the work with PKKP traditional owners to re-chart our partnership and build a shared future.”
Federal parliament’s Northern Australia Committee this month tabled its interim report into the destruction following months of hearings.
It urged Rio to negotiate compensation with the PKKP, reconstruct and remediate the Juukan Gorge site, and promise never to mine there.
MPs also called on the mining giant to refrain from applying to destroy sites until WA’s heritage laws were improved.