Mining giant BHP has agreed to hold fire on the WA government-approved destruction of heritage site as part of work on its South Flank iron ore project after concerns from traditional owners.

Any destruction of the sites would be against the wishes of the Banjima people, who declined to comment on reports they are gagged from directly criticising BHP under the terms of a comprehensive agreement on mine development signed in 2015.
The Banjima are in mourning for the unexpected death of their elders councilchairman in the Pilbara town of Onslow on Monday and said it was a time of profound sadness and loss.
Banjima Native Title Aboriginal Corporation chairman Maitland Parker said: “As a matter of lore and culture shared with other traditional owners across Australia and the world, the Banjima people do not support the destruction of sites of cultural significance.
“We stand with all Aboriginal traditional owners and particularly our Pilbara brothers and sisters, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura at this time, in our abhorrence at the destruction of the Juukan rock shelters, and those suffering the threat of or having recently experienced similar site destruction.”
At the time the agreement with BHP was signed, then BNTAC chairman Slim Parker welcomed it as an opportunity to build a fantastic future through programs and projects.
We are in the midst of a period of great change, said Slim Parker, who is still a board member.
The Banjima People are privileged to be at the forefront of a future that can truly be fabulous in all areas of our lives. Change is the name of the game if we the Banjima People are to build prosperity through self-determination. This will enable sustainability of our law and culture for future generations to come.
BHP was granted the all-clear on to destroy scores of sites significant to the Banjima as part of the project works on May 29, just five days after Rio Tinto blasted sites at Juukan Gorge as part of its Brockman 4 mine expansion.
It is alleged the Banjima native title holders told the WA government in April they were opposed to archaeological sites in the South Flank project area being damaged.
BHP has confirmed it was granted approval under section 18 of WA’s Aboriginal Heritage Act to go ahead with the work at South Flank. The consent covered 40 heritage sites.
We will not disturb the sites identified without further extensive consultation with the Banjima people, a BHP spokesman said on Thursday.
That consultation will be based on our commitment to understanding the cultural significance of the region and on the deep respect we have for the Banjima people and their heritage.
This will include further scientific study and discussion on mitigation and preservation.
BHP said it had a strong relationship with the Banjima community built over more than two decades and that the relationship was of fundamental importance to the company.
Mr Wyatt, who faced calls for his resignation at a rally outside Rio Tinto’s Perth headquarters on Tuesday, said no objections were filed when he approved the South Flank work and that the area concerned was covered by a comprehensive agreement signed by BHP and the Banjima in 2015.
“BHP agreed financial and other benefits for the Banjima people, while the Banjima made commitments to support the South Flank project,” he said.
“The agreement also covered heritage matters, and identified 72 exclusion zones which were sites regarded as significant by the Banjima people.”
Mr Wyatt, who made history as Australia’s first indigenous state treasurer, said BHP subsequently lodged section 18 notices as foreshadowed by the comprehensive agreement which Banjima had not objected to in keeping with its commitments.
As minister for aboriginal affairs, I want to see impacts to Aboriginal sites limited to the practical extent possible. I am also a great believer in self-determination for Aboriginal people and support native title groups using their hard-won rights to make commercial agreements with land users,” he said.
Mr Wyatt said he was cautious about governments interfering in private negotiations by registered native title holders.
He is considering a host of resources projects under section 18, including Fortescue Metals Group’s proposed $US287 million Queens mine and $US2.6 billion Iron Bridge joint venture.
Mr Wyatt has promised to replace the existing Aboriginal Heritage Act, which include section 18 provisions giving Aboriginal group no right of appeal.