Marine resources and biodiversity conservation , yet another Indigenous People's struggle 

New Caledonia conservative government bares the nomination of New Caledonia coral reefs for inclusion in the World Heritage List. 

Unlike the Kanak people, the indigenous people of New Caledonia, and unlike all world marine scientists and ecologists, the settler led Government of New Caledonia tries to bar the nomination of New Caledonia coral reefs for inclusion in the World Heritage List. 

Despite a strong opposition from the New Caledonia Government, a delegation of three Kanak Customary Senators left Noumea, Saturday January 18th, for Paris where the senators will meet with French government authorities such as Michel Chatot, French President advisor, Brigite Girardin, Minister for Overseas Territories and Roselyne Bachelot, Minister for Ecology and Sustainable Development. The Senate delegation should also meet with the World Heritage Centre officials. 

Pierre Frogier, head of the New Caledonia government wrote a letter to Pierre Zeoula, High Chief of Gaicha, Lifou and Chairman of the Kanak Customary Senate, telling him to restrain the institution's activities to what was defined by the 1998 Noumea accord signatories. 

As a Pacific islander himself, Pierre Frogier should know that, in New Caledonia as in most Pacific countries, there is no acre of land that is not under the authority of a chieftainship or of a clan, and that Mother land comprises the " sea-land " as far as the horizon.  As a French educated political leader, Pierre Frogier should know that the Customary Senate is the third institution of New Caledonia, after Congress and the Executive, and that the President of Government can hardly dare teaching the Kanak Senate Chairman a lesson. 

As head of the New Caledonia government, Pierre Frogier should know that on January 31st, 2002, France, as administering power for New Caledonia, introduced the official nomination of New Caledonia coral reefs for inclusion in the World Heritage List. 

Since March 2002, the World Heritage Centre has been asking the State party for additional scientific data requested for the examination of the nomination, with a deadline fixed for January 31st, 2003. 

On November 2002, once informed on the situation of the nomination and having understood that the French government was backing New Caledonia settlers strong man Jacques Lafleur opposition to the nomination, the Customary Senate of New Caledonia decided to lead a team of scientists and technicians towards the completion of the nomination. 

The Customary Senate also called on the three provincial government of New Caledonia competent in environmental issues and on the French government, to, along with the Kanak Institution, gather their efforts towards the same goal. 

The Kanak majority led Northern Province and Loyalty island Province replied in working their own parts of the nomination, while Jacques Lafleur, head of the Southern Province said the inclusion in the World Heritage List could only go against the indigenous people's fishing traditions and as such should not be sought after. 

Explaining the need for the nomination of New Caledonia coral reefs, the French government said that " France is the sole nation to have coral reefs in three oceans of the planet, with New Caledonia granting France 75% of her total coral reef. Since, France has a strong responsibility in the conservation of the coral reef World Heritage ". 

With the change of government in France, came a new attitude from French government officials : " New Caledonia provincial authorities which are competent in environmental issues must reach consensus before the nomination can be completed ".  Paris is opposing Jacques Lafleur’s position to the decision made the two other provinces of New Caledonia, and above all, Paris is acting against the will of the Kanak people to preserve the natural richness of their mother land. 

The nomination of the New Caledonia coral reefs and associated ecosystems has support form the world marine scientists. Last year, 62 coastal and marine scientific experts attended the " World heritage Marine Biodiversity Workshop ", held in HanoI, Vietnam from 25 February to 1 March, 2002.

The group of experts unanimously recognized an area in the Pacific region to be of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) in terms of their tropical coastal, marine and small island biodiversity attributes, with New Caledonia on the top of the list. 

Today the Kanak Customary Senators are in Paris to hand over to the French government the missing data required by the World Heritage Centre prior to the inclusion in the list. 
Only the State party can deal with the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, and today nothing should stop the ad hoc French Minister to give the Centre the missing data. 

The Senators hope French President Jacques Chirac’s support to the world Indigenous Peoples will also apply for the Kanak people, one of indigenous peoples of the French Overseas Territories and that the President's declaration at the Johannesburg World Summit will prevail Jacques Lafleur’s own political interests in the Pacific island country. 

The delegation is led by Jean Wanabo, senator for Iaai-Ouvea Island, with David Sinewami, senator for Nengone-Mare Island, and Dick Meureureu-Goin, senator for A’Jie-A’Rhô, center-main island. 

Sarimin J. Boengkih 
Kanak Agency for Development 
Kanaky-New Caledonia 
e-mail: Autochtonie <> 


New Caledonia : Back ground information 

New Caledonia is located in the South Pacific, 1800 km East of Australia and 2000 km North of Aotearoa-New Zealand. A French colony since 1853, qualified as French Overseas Territory from 1958, New Caledonia is a French stronghold with a total population of 220,000 inhabitants in 2002, of which 49% of indigenous Kanaks, 37% of Europeans and 14% being other Pacific islanders and Asians.  New Caledonia is the largest world nickel ore deposit and the second largest nickel producer. Recently a huge
deposit of natural gas has been found within the 200 nautical miles Economic Exclusive Zone. 

The Kanak indigenous people's struggle against colonization that never stopped since the 19th century, reaching climax in 1988 with a colonial war that end up with the signing of the Matignon Accord between France, the settlers’ conservative party RPCR and the Kanak pro-independence party FLNKS.  The Accord divided the Territory into three autonomous Provinces. Two of them, the Northern Province and the Loyalty Island Province are led by a Kanak majority, the third, the Southern Province, the most developed one with all modern infrastructure, is controlled by the conservative party RPCR led by Jacques Lafleur, member of the French Parliament. 

In 1998, the Noumea Accord, a new agreement by the same signatories, postponed the vote on self-determination and independence – the goal of the indigenous Kanak movement for over two decades – for another 15 to 20 years. In the new accord, France, for the first time ever, recognizes the Kanak people as a distinct people from the French people, contrary to the French Constitution which says that the Republic is made of one people only, the French people. The Noumea accord also affirms that the building New Caledonia as a new nation cannot be reached without (recognition of) the Kanak people's sovereignty. 

The Accord created the Customary Senate which is competent in all issues regarding the Kanak people's identity. As for any other indigenous people, the Kanak identity lays on Land. Ever since, the local government has been targeting to minimize the power of the Customary Senate which is composed only of Kanak senators named by their respective traditional authorities. 

Since mid 1990s, huge nickel mining industry projects are undertaken by multinational companies such as Canadian INCO Ltd and Falconbridge, increasing migration from France and elsewhere by an average of 3,000´ per year. Some of the new migrants, having not found any employment, end up living as squatters in shanty towns surrounding Noumea the capital city. 

In december last year, INCO Ltd decided to suspend its two-billion US dollar nickel mining project in Goro (South of the main island) for at least six months in order to re-assess the costs. Contrary to the other Canadian´ company Falconbridge, INCO Ltd has never, and still not sought the Kanak indigenous people's agreement for its project. 

The population of New Caledonia is young with over 50% under twenty. Unemployment reaches 20% of the local work force, 30% within the Kanak population. 

The further delay of the vote on independence has caused concern amongst some indigenous Kanak activists who have not benefited neither from the Matignon Accord nor from the Noumea Accord. The local non indigenous population feels marginalized since French metropolitan companies are controlling the country's economy with preferences given to better qualified French metropolitan migrants and expatriates. 

Jacques Chirac’s visit planned for July this year may end up with demonstrations of resentfulness towards France.