The national Juukan Gorge Cultural Heritage project was established following a parliamentary inquiry into the destruction of Indigenous heritage sites at Juukan Gorge by mining giant Rio Tinto in May 2020.

Juukan Gorge is located on Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura Country in the Pilbara region of Western Australia and held caves showing human occupancy dating back 46,000 years. Almost two years after the culturally significant rock shelters were blown up ­due to mining interests – the Juukan Gorge Cultural Heritage project remains a complex and time-intensive process.

In October 2021, the Joint Standing Committee of the Australian Parliament that inquired into the devastating desecration of the Juukan Gorge site released its final report – A Way Forward. The report contains eight key recommendations.

As a member of the National Native Title Council, QSNTS CEO Kevin Smith was appointed to the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance Leadership Group, which signed a partnership agreement with the Australian Government to co-design a model to address these recommendations. Kevin was also appointed to the working group tasked with achieving the outcomes set forth in the partnership agreement.

The cultural heritage protection model that is being designed will lead to the development of a discussion paper and the discussion paper will form the basis for two rounds of consultation. The first round will focus on service providers and the second round will involve consultation with Traditional Owners. 

Additionally, the upcoming AIATSIS Summit, which brings together native title stakeholders from across the country, presents an opportunity to establish a third consultation session. 

This advocacy intervention is an opportunity to strengthen cultural heritage laws by applying concepts from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and principles of best practice.