KANAK PEOPLE FIGHT FOR CONTROL OF NICKEL RESOURCES

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By Arlene Tate and Christian Cournoyer

NOUMÉA, New Caledonia (Sept. 30, 2002 – Kanaky Online)---"In the past, we have let the mining exploiters do whatever they want and pollute our earth, which still carries the traces of that. It is time for this to stop," declared the Great Chiefs Moyatea and Tein to 5,000 demonstrators outside the Province buildings in Nouméa Monday.

"We don't need our children to accuse us of having wasted their inheritance," they added.

Demonstrators demanded the withdrawal of a nickel prospecting permit in the Prony region, granted by French authorities to Goro Nickel, which is majority-owned by the Canadian mining company Inco.

Reporters from the Militant who visited this French colony in the South Pacific in the first week of September were able to speak to people in the area, along with other fighters for sovereignty, and gain a picture of the centrality of the nickel industry to the fight by the indigenous Kanak people and others for national development and control over the islands' resources.

The protest was called by the Collective for the Defense and the Control of the Mining Patrimony of Prony (CDMPP). The collective includes diverse forces, from independence fighters of the indigenous Kanak population, environmentalists, and women's rights activists, to the Alliance, a party that supports French colonial rule.

"We are now going to fight like the Inuits of Canada fought, and obtained what they wanted," said Victor Tutugoro, spokesperson of the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS), a coalition of pro-independence parties that is supported by the overwhelming majority of Kanaks.

Further national protests against the Goro project have been called for Sept. 27. Many residents of the area told the Militant that they oppose the mine development. Concern for its environmental impact, and especially that of the smelter scheduled for construction nearby, helped to build participation in the Aug. 30 protest.

The smelter, which will be located on a 150-acre site, will extract the nickel using new technology in which the mine slurry is subjected to heat and pressure and treated with sulfuric acid to yield both nickel and cobalt. The byproducts are neutralized, the solid waste becomes landfill, and the waste water is pumped out to sea. Little is known about the long-term effects of this process on land, water, and living beings.

In the context of the high unemployment among Kanaks, many people in the area also expressed concern about plans to bring in 1,500 workers from the Philippines to work in the smelter's construction.

Two weeks after the protest, Radio Australia reported that the company managing work at the Goro site had suspended operations. Following recent blockades of the site by the employees of a subcontractor, Goro Nickel has recalled its mostly Australian expatriate workers from the islands.

New Caledonia's nickel reserves offer a considerable stake for the French imperialists in seeking to maintain their colonial grip in the face of repeated struggles for independence.

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