Goro Nickel Project Risks Growing Opposition from Unions, Kanak Representatives, Politicians, and Environmental Groups

Kanak Concerns Coalesce into Opposition: Communiqué Demands the Suspension of the Goro Nickel Project Until Inco Deals with Unresolved Issues

Canadian mining giant Inco is facing growing opposition from all sides in New Caledonia, including from local elected officials, in the development of the Goro Nickel Project.

A delegation of New Caledonia authorities arrives in Brisbane this week to discuss a range of concerns with senior management of Inco amid growing discontent within New Caledonia.

Meanwhile civil society groups including indigenous Kanak representatives (Senators and members of the Rhéébù Nùù Committee) are calling upon Inco to halt its campaign to secure exemptions from environmental regulations and existing New Caledonian labour and environmental standards in the development of the Goro Nickel mine in Kanaky New Caledonia, and to address the increasing number of environmental, social and economic problems that have been exposed in the companies mining planned operations.

At the Nickel 2010 conference that took place in Noumea on July 7th and 8th Kanak traditional leaders, senators, political leaders and leaders of trade union organisations strongly expressed their lack of confidence in the Goro Nickel project, and called on the mining company to postpone development of the project.

Kanak organisation Rhéébù Nùù has issued a communiqué calling on the company to suspend its operations, stating that the failure of the company to respond properly to environmental, social and economic concerns has lead local communities to oppose the project: “we assert that the Goro Nickel project does not fulfill the conditions of respecting the environment and even less the conditions for sustainable development. The construction of the Goro Nickel project must be suspended and the vast campaign of misinformation around the current project must stop.” This statement will be presented on behalf of the Rhéébù Nùù Committee in Brisbane today at a meeting of New Caledonian officials and Inco management.

Inco’s efforts to operate without complying with the laws and regulations in New Caledonia appears to also be straining relations with local French authorities, and has also been the subject of sharp criticism by New Caledonian, French and Canadian trade union officials at a conference last week.

Where previously the local French administration has bowed to Inco’s demands it is now asking for some basic guarantees from Goro Nickel. President Philippe Gomez of the Southern Province has expressed concern regarding the unwillingness of Goro Nickel to respect advice and recommendations made by the province in consultations with the company. Philippe Gomez recently sent a three page letter to Inco to complain about a variety of outstanding issues including the request for permission to use public marine resources for the mine’s effluent pipeline that enters the lagoon and other concerns regarding the inadequacy of Inco’s environmental assessments regarding the development of port facilities and the residue storage cells.

The frustration with Inco’s conduct extends up the ranks of NC authorities with the French High commissioner Daniel Constentin having been recently quoted as saying “INCO is lying to every body.” (He told some of his interlocutors “Inco nous mène en bateau” in Les Infos n°143 of Friday July 1st.)

Rumours are circulating about a possible decision by Inco to halt construction again amidst questions about how Inco will deal with the findings of an independent review group chosen by the southern province regarding the inadequacy of Inco’s Environmental Impact Assessments with respect to environmental and social issues.

“Inco needs to take a few step back and deal with the growing concerns of a widening section of the New Caledonian population before it proceeds with this project,” stated Techa Beaumont, of Australian based Mineral Policy Institute. “Without a social license to operate and particularly without good faith negotiated outcomes consented to by the local Kanak population they are facing not only severe reputation risks but increasingly risks to the development of the project itself.”

“Inco leadership has been completely aware of the deep discontent of indigenous Kanak leadership since at least 2001, when the first of a series of high-level Kanak delegations to Canada met with Inco in Toronto,” says Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada. “The Kanaks are asking for nothing more than a negotiated agreement on environmental and social conditions, such as Inco has with the indigenous Innu at their operations in Canada. Inco’s footdragging is now seriously threatening the Goro project.”

For more information, or a copy of the communiqué that will be delivered today to Inco and the New Caledonian:

  • Techa Beaumont: (Mineral Policy Institute, Australia): tel: +61 (0)409 318 406
  • Jacques Sarimin Boengkih: (Agence Kanak de Développement, New Caledonia) tel: +687 412 244 or 687 919 119
  • Catherine Coumans: (MiningWatch Canada) tel: 1-613-569-3439

The Rhéébù Nùù Committee has issued a communiqué, to be delivered to the delegation from New Caledonia and Inco during meetings in Brisbane today. The substance of the communiqué is:

The Syndex report on the nickel mine projects and the UNSOENC conference outcomes confirmed all concerns expressed by RN since 2002;

Considering the lack of answers and the lack of transparent policies from the Goro Nickel company, the population’s concerns have become opposition to the project expressed as following :

  • Our chieftains and the people are opposed to the marine effluent pipeline and ocean outfall;
  • Our chieftains and the people are opposed to the destruction of our marine and terrestrial eco-systems;
  • Our chieftains and the people are opposed to the accumulating of atmospheric pollution that go far beyond the acceptable standards;
  • We strongly demand that our indigenous rights be taken into account and call for the establishment of a Heritage Fund under the chieftains’ scrutiny and for the future generations’ needs.

Several times we have called upon the Southern province and the Government to go by their duties, as they are “juges” with the power over environment and “parties as partners to the project and politically interested”.

In concluding we assert that the Goro Nickel project does not fulfil the conditions respecting the environment and even less the conditions for a sustainable development.

The construction of the Goro Nickel project must be suspended and there is need to stop the vast misinforming operation.

The communiqué is signed by Andre Vama, President, and Raphael Mapou, Secretary-General and former President.

The Rhéébù Nùù Committee is a Kanak organization established as a local monitoring body over Inco’s Goro nickel project to protect the fundamental freedoms and newly recognized rights of the indigenous Kanak people from violations as a result of this mine project.

While the Rhéébù Nùù Committee was established in 2001, its organizational roots go back to 1991 when the Kanak population of Yaté protested the re-designation of the boundaries between their municipality and the French settlers-controlled-municipality of Mont-Dore. The Prony and the Port-Boisé areas, which are rich in nickel deposits were taken out of Yaté’s jurisdiction and were added to Mont-Doré’s. Additionally, many of the leaders of the Rhéébù Nùù Committee were active in the Kanak struggles for independence of the 1980s and 1990s. While the Rhéébù Nùù Committee’s main mandate is local - monitoring and countering the impacts of Inco’s Goro Nickel mine on Kanak rights and authority - its struggle is recognized as being of critical significance to upholding Kanak rights throughout Kanaky, so that its current membership is around 4000 and includes Kanaks from all parts of Kanaky.

Raphael Mapou became the Rhéébù Nùù Committee’s first chairperson after he quit his position in the Government of New Caledonia. Mapou held the Indigenous Affairs portfolio and was one of a few Kanaks in the territorial government. Mapou quit in May of 2002, when the authorities of the Southern Province granted a second huge nickel concession to Inco -- the Prony deposit next to the Goro concession -- without any remuneration from Inco. This second concession increases Inco’s potential production from 54,000 tons of nickel at Goro to 180,000 tons of nickel per year. With its Goro and Prony concessions, Inco holds one of the largest nickel reserves in the world with the potential for one hundred years of exploitation.