Indigenous people value the environment in a manner different to western society and perceive damage to cultural and natural resource values as a threat to their socio-economic systems and therefore their survival. Disruption to their cultural activities and lands often results in significant opposition to mining and this represents a hidden cost to mining companies seeking to work in remote areas of Australia. These threats are important aspects of the ‘social licence to operate’ that must be addressed if industrial activity is to be introduced effectively and sustainably where indigenous cultures remain strong. However, it is difficult to express cultural damage in simple monetary terms because few tools exist that provide clear baseline information and estimations of impacts on cultural and socio-economic values from an indigenous perspective.
The links between Traditional Environmental Knowledge, cultural landscaping and risk assessment are demonstrated using the alumina refinery at Gove in Australia’s Northern Territory as an example. Their application has helped provide additional information with respect to how mining impacts indigenous culture, patterns of natural resource and land management. As a result, a better estimate of the socio-economic cost to indigenous people may now be obtained and expressed in a manner that can be more easily understood by all stakeholders involved.