From March 9-19 an eight-member delegation visited Canada from the French “overseas territory” of New Caledonia, also known as Kanaky, in the southwestern Pacific.
The trip, billed as a “fact-finding” mission, arose from deep concern in the indigenous Kanak community over Inco’s plans to build a massive nickel mine in the island territory.
The delegation that visited Canada in March included two members of the Senat Coutumier, Vincent Akaro and past president Georges Mandaoué, as well as four members of the Rhéébu Nùù Committee: Raphaël Mapou, Chairman of the committee (Mr. Mapou was formerly a Minister in the territorial government); Roch Wamytan, who is also High Chief of St. Louis tribe and Minister for Customary Affairs in the New Caledonian Territorial Government; Sylvestre Newedou, also a member of the Southern Province Assembly; and François Vouty, who is also deputy-mayor of the municipality of Yaté where the proposed mine is located. The delegation was completed by consultants Jacques Saramin Boengkih and Christian Doncieux.
The delegation met with Assembly of First Nations National Chief Matthew Coon Come, the Grand Council of the Crees, Makivik Corporation, and a lawyer for the Innu Nation. The group also met with Seceretary of State for Asia-Pacific David Kilgour, officials in Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Nault’s office, Export Development Canada, and Paul Bernier of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency as well as independent experts, including geographer Peter Usher. The delegation also presented before two Parliamentary Standing Committees (Environment and Sustainable Development, and Foreign Affairs and International Trade).
The delegation also met with Falconbridge and Inco – both companies plan to mine in Kanaky-New Caledonia, and both have signed negotiated settlements with Canadian indigenous peoples. While the meeting with Falconbridge to discuss the Raglan agreement was fruitful, the meeting with Inco was disappointing. Inco CEO Scott Hand would not commit to discuss Kanak cultural, economic, and environmental concerns.