The agreement allows the traditional owners to work with Rio to manage the miner’s impact on cultural heritage sites throughout the 13,000 square kilometres of Yindjibarndi country between Tom Price and Karratha.
It also includes an unspecified amount of compensation money and a commitment by Rio Tinto to create training, employment and business opportunities for Yindjibarndi people for the duration of its operations in the area.
Clayton Walker, who heads Rio Tinto’s Pilbara supply chain, said that, in return, the agreement ensures Rio has the support of the local people as it looks to operate in the area for the next 100-years.
“This allows … us certainty into how we are going to manage our operations and it gives the Yindjibarndi people certainty on how we will go about doing those things and it helps both of us prepare for the future,” Walker said.
Yindjinbarndi Aboriginal Corporation chief executive officer Michael Woodley said the agreement was the start of an exciting 100-year journey with Rio that would benefit his people for decades to come.
The agreement is also significant as a vote of confidence in Woodley’s YAC, following its high profile dispute with fellow miner Fortescue Metals Group.
FMG had preferred to negotiate access to Yindjibarndi lands through the rival Wirlu-murra Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation.
However, these efforts were stymied after a Federal Court decision in February determined that YAC were the official body to negotiate land use agreements on behalf of the Yindjibarndi Native Title holders.
Despite this, WMYAC said in a recent press release that its members were unhappy with the level of consultation that preceded the deal between Rio Tinto and the Yindjibarndi people.
“We are concerned only a very small number of native title holders appeared to have knowledge of the agreement,” the WYMAC statement said.
But Woodley said his team had done everything in their power “to make sure that the information was available to those members who continue to have concerns”.
“All I can say is that we are disappointed and hopefully once these things start moving, it will then draw those people back and they can see for themselves that this can work,” Woodley said.
Rio’s Walker backed the negotiation process with YAC and other traditional owners.
“If you sit down talk to your partners, listen to their concerns weighed up against our own you can come to an agreement,” Walker said.
“It doesn’t always happen as fast as you would like or as quick but what it does do is allow you to both be very happy with what you end up.”
Walker said Rio can now look forward with confidence to expanding its operations in Yindjibarndi lands, which include railway lines connecting Tom Price and Dampier and Pannawonica and Cape Lambert and future mine sites.
Woodley said YAC’s focus will be on a three-year plan to deliver improvements in housing, education and commercial opportunities for Yindjibarndi people.
The signing ceremony on June 19 took on a festive atmosphere with high profile guests, including Minister for Regional Development and Lands Brendon Grylls, a sausage sizzle and a musical performance by Tootsie Daniels and band.