In New Caledonia, a Kanak organization is preparing a commemoration of an important moment for the French Territory's pro-independence movement. Last Wednesday, the Committee of the 20 Years organized a gathering in the capital, Noumea, and more is planned for the next days at Ouvea. In April and May 1988, a clash between Kanak pro-independence activists and French authorities ended with 25 people dead. The incident led to talks between Paris and the pro-independence movement which lead to the Matignon agreements signed in June 1988.
"The Kanak women have well understood how important it is that they take part in the struggle for liberation. They take part in the political struggle not only to defend the rights of the people, but also to defend their own rights and to better their situation. They did not stop at political discourse, but they have taken an active part in the field and on the front lines such as barricades against colonial military forces and guerilla tactics." --Bertha Nare. Kanaky/New Caledonia
The Melanesian Kanaks arrived in the islands 3,000 years ago from Papua New Guinea.
They are related to their northern neighbours both ethnically and culturally.
The mountainous main island and scattered islands have resulted in distinct cultural groups, represented by the 20 distinct languages that existed when Europeans first arrived.
Kanaky, also known as New Caledonia, is home to the Melanesian Kanak people.
There are presently 187,784 (1996) people living in Kanaky. Only 42.5% of them are Kanaks, making them a minority in their own lands. They are joined by Europeans, mainly French (37%), Wallisian 8% and Polynesians, Indonesians and Vietnamese.
Other names for Kanaky are New Caledonia or Territoire des Nouvelle-Caledonie et Dependances.
A Melanesian nation, it lies off the north-east coast of Australia.
Kanaky consists of five inhabited islands. The largest is New Caledonia, or La Grande Terre. It is the second largest island in the Pacific, after Aotearoa/New Zealand and hosts the capital Noumea.
There are also two island groups, the Huons and the Loyalty Islands which includes Ouvea.
The nation is about 250 miles long and 30 miles wide.
Kanaky is not independent. It has been an Overseas Territory of France since 1956.
In 1988, the Matignon Accord promised a degree of political and economic self-autonomy, with France maintaining control of foreign and military affairs, treasury and immigration.
The Matignon Accords were to lead, in 1998, to a referendum on independence. But in 1998 another agreement, called the "Noumea Accord", was signed. Setting guidelines towards independence in 2013 oe 2018, the Accord was brokered between the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS), the loyalist Rally for Caledonia in the Republic (RPCR) and the French government. A Kanaky-wide referendum in November 1998 will ask the 200,000 population whether they agree with the Accord.
If accepted the Accord would lead to new elections in mid-1999 for three Provincial assemblies and a New Caledonia Congress. France will then transfer some powers in the first five year term to the Congress - labour legislation, local employment and foreign trade. Other powers that would be handed over in the following decade include mining rights, regional relations and social services.
But France will retain control of crucial sovereign powers such as defence, foreign relations, police, justice and currency for the entire 15 to 20 year period.
Those entitled to vote in the independence referendum would include all those who would have been entitled to vote in the 1998 referendum - Kanaks and people who had lived in the nation at the time of the Matignon Accord - and others who had been born in Kanaky, or had one parent born in Kanaky or those who, in 2013, could prove 20 years continuous residence.
This Agreement would eraze the Kanaks' sole right to self-determination as the Indigenous people. The UN promised in 1960, and repeated in 1980, that Indigenous peoples alone have the right to decide the future political status of their nation.
This promise is outlined in the UN General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of December 1960, and supported by resolution 65/118 of December 1980.
The referendum at the end of the 15-20 year period will focus on the sovereign powers of Kanaky/New Caledonia, accession to an international status of full responsibility and the transformation from citizenship to nationality.
Presently the French President is the Chief of State and is represented in Kanaky by a High Commissioner appointed by the French Ministry of the Interior. That High Commissioner is President of an eight member Counseil de Gouvernement which are elected by the Territorial Assembly, which deals only with issues internal to the nation. The High Commissioner controls all government services.
Kanaky/New Caledonia's involvement in its national affairs is limited to one representative in the French Senate and two Deputies in the French National Assembly.
Kanaky is dependent on French financial aid. Most of Kanaky's income is derived from nickel, of which it has the world's largest known reserve (20%). Other minerals are also mined including chrome, iron, cobalt and manganese.
The economy is threatened by the global drop in demand for nickel.
The 1988 Matignon Accord committed France to improve infrastructure and services and to stimulate economic growth of its colony. This was only carried out in a limited form. Economic power continues to reside with the European settlers in Noumea, while the Kanak areas are under resourced.
Kanaky/New Caledonian military affairs are controlled by France and hosts a French naval base.
HISTORY SINCE EUROPEAN INVASION
When the British Captain Cook arrived in 1775 he estimated 70,000 Kanaks lived in the islands. Cook named the islands "New Caledonia" after the Scottish highlands.
The protestant London Missionary Society followed after 50 years, leading the way for the French Catholics in 1843. Increasing tensions between the religious factions led to the French Catholics winning control over the islands.
France annexed the island nation in 1850.
Then, between 1864 and 1897, France established a penal colony. The majority of the 20,000 convicts transported to the islands chose to remain and settle there.
This coincided with the development of the nickel (1864) and copper (1875) industries.
As a result the Kanaks were pushed off their lands and into infertile reserves on the edges of the mountains. By 1900, the Kanaks had access to only 10% of their islands.
Loss of land, and therefore livelihood, coupled with diseases introduced with immigration, decimated the Kanak population until only 27,000 survived.
The Kanaks did not give away their sovereignty. They resisted the colonial presence. The Canaque Revolt of 1878 was only one example. But the Kanaks were repressed by the European superior weaponry.
Following Second World War, the UN placed Kanaky on its Decolonisation List of Non-Self-Governing Territories. But France unilaterally removed it from the list and made it an Overseas Territory.
In 1951 France granted the Kanaks and French settlers the right to vote and allowed Kanaks to move out of the reservations in which they had been contained.
In 1957 the French established a Territorial Assembly, a move which was seen as a first step towards independence.
But then, in 1958, General De Gaulle was elected as French President. He abolished the Territorial Assembly and reinstated the regime of repression.
The Kanaks had long resisted the French colonialists.
In 1878 the Canaque Revolt called for independence. The French successfully suppressed the indigenous endeavour to re-establish their sovereignty.
The independence movement re-orgranised in 1981 when the Kanak leader of the Union Caledonienne was shot in his home.
In 1984 the Front de Liberation Nationale Kanak Socialiste (FLNKS) was formed. It called for a boycott of the Territorial Assembly elections and established a Provisional Government.
The French settlers responded by massacring Kanak youth.
On January 7, 1985, the FLNKS announced a referendum on independence to be held in July 1985, and to be followed in January 1986 with self-government in association with France.
Again the French settlers responded with violence. French President Mitterand moved to establish greater autonomy in the colony but this was barely implemented when Prime Minister Chirac stationed troops in the islands.
The UN re-inscribed Kanaky on the Decolonisation List of Non-Self-Governing Territories in 1986 but the repressive French regime continued. Tensions mounted and another massacre of Kanak youth took place in 1987.
Then in 1988 the Ouvea Massacre occurred.
Responding to a pending election for the Territorial Assembly, Kanak youth took French gendarmes prisoner. The French government responded with 300 troops. Fifteen youth were killed, including those who were surrendering.
International outrage at the massacre resulted in talks between the French government, French settlers and the Kanaks.
The Matignon Accord was signed by the Kanaks in August 1988. It was then voted on in France by 80% of French citizens.
Tension continued to mount however and resulted in the assassination of Kanak leaders Jean-Marie Tjibaou and Yeiwene Yeiwene, the two Kanaks who were involved in signing the Matignon Accord.
The Matignon Accord promises a referendum on self-government in 1998, but as the Kanaks are a minority in their own lands, independence is considered an unlikely outcome.
Many Kanaks were angry that independence will not be guaranteed after a ten years wait. They argued that the Matignon Accord gave France time to change the political power structure, gearing it even more so towards the Caldoches (pro-French settlers).
The Accord divided the country up for shared administration by the Caldoches and the Kanaks. The Caldoches maintained control of the predominantly white urban and militarised area around Noumea, while the Kanaks gained control over the less developed rural areas. Establishing a limited local autonomy, France retained control over foreign and military affairs, land ownership, treasury and immigration.
The Matignon Accords was to lead to a referendum on independence in 1998 but another agreement was signed.
If accepted this agreement progressively hand political power to the Kanaky population until full independence is achieved in 2013 or 2018. France however would continue to control military and foreign affairs, immigration, police and currency until that time.
A referendum will be held in Kanaky in November 1998 to determine whether or not the Agreement is acceptable to the people.
The French value Kanaky not only for its mineral deposits but also for its position which enables them to maintain political, military and economic power in the Pacific.
After the US, France has the second largest military presence in the Pacific. A naval base in Kanaky helps them to keep that control.
The Kanaks are determined to reclaim sovereignty over their own lands.
A recent agreement, called the "Noumea Accord", will be taken to a public referendum in December 1998. This Accord replaces the Matignon Accord which guaranteed that a referendum on independence would be held in 1998. It is the result of negotiations between Kanak, European settler communities and the French government.
If accepted at the December referendum the Noumea Accord result in reforms leading to a referendum on independence in between 15 to 20 years.
This will include progressive changes to the local political control and structure. While Kanaky will gain greater control over internal and regional affairs, France will retain sovereign rights including control over military and foreign affairs.
Unemployment is rife among Kanaks. In 1996, of 18,000 jobs only 5,000 went to Kanaks people. Public sector jobs are open to all citizens but Kanaks tend to be less qualified.
KANAKY (New Caledonia) - http://www.planet.apc.org/pacific_action/national/g_l/kanaky.html