Cultural heritage preservation in the context of mining – a paradox? The Rio Tinto case.

  • Author: Elizabeth Bradshaw
  • Topic: Heritage studies
  • Country: South Africa
  • Related Congress: 13th Congress, Dakar

Can mining occur in a way that not only minimises impacts, but enhances cultural heritage conservation? Historically this has not been the case, and in many instances today remains out of reach. This paper sets out the approach of a multinational mining company, Rio Tinto, whose goal is to achieve just that. The company seeks to work with communities and cultural heritage professionals on cultural heritage preservation as a key componen of its contribution to positive and sustainable socio-economic outcomes in the countries where it operates. This approach developed out of the company’s long-term engagement with Australian Indigenous communities. This involves negotiating collaborative cultural heritage processes and programs, within broad community project agreements. These recognise tangible and intangible cultural heritage, and are based on cultural respect, maintenance and celebration. Cultural heritage management is now an integrated aspect of Rio Tinto’s Communities standard, and is of increasing importance in its company’s relationships with local communities. This involves internal management systems and procedures to ensure cultural heritage impacts are minimised from day one, and creative solutions developed with communities to enhance its preservation before, during, and after Rio Tinto’s mining operations. These include: local community heritage training and capacity building, establishing cultural museums and displays, oral history documentation, traditional environmental knowledge documentation and use in project design and monitoring, language documentation and publication, development of educational materials, support for cultural festivals, archaeological research projects, and the establishment of heritage conservation precincts.

This paper outlines Rio Tinto’s cultural heritage management approach and experiences, with reference to country specific case studies.

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