(Ottawa/Noumea) Indigenous Kanak Chiefs and villagers are currently blockading all access to Inco’s massive Goro Nickel project on the island of New Caledonia in the South Pacific. The blockades started in the evening of March 29th. All terrestrial access to the Goro Nickel’s plant site, power plant site and mine is blocked with heavy trucks and huge loaders. Access to the site by sea is being blockaded as well.
The blockade is headed up by the Kanak organization Rhéébù Nùù. Rhéébù Nùù’s President, André Vama, and Secretary General, Raphael Mapou, have been warning New Caledonia’s political leaders, as well as the French authorities who still govern this French Overseas Territory, that failure to respond to Kanak concerns about the project’s environmental and social impacts would lead to action. This latest blockade follows on months of demonstrations near the plant site.
At stake for the Kanaks is the protection of fresh water from Yaté Lake, which Inco plans to tap for the mine’s operations, as well as the protection of nearby marine ecosystems, which Kanaks argue are threatened by a pipeline Inco plans to build to release mine waste water into the sea. Rhéébù Nùù has been struggling for years to have Inco heed their requests for negotiations about the social and environmental impacts of Inco’s massive project. They seek a negotiated and legally binding settlement regarding social and environmental impacts, much as that signed with Inco by the Innu of Labrador.
This latest action is supported by Kanak leaders and communities from all over New Caledonia. An indigenous authority from nearby Isle-of-Pines has spoken up for the first time explaining to French TV that they have decided to support Rhéébù Nùù as they are already seeing pollution from the Goro Nickel project reaching their fishing grounds. “Since the last and heavy rains, the sea has turned red with the pollution coming from the main island,” he said. “Now we have the proof that Rhéébù Nùù has been telling the truth when warning all of us about the risks of destruction of our way of life. The mine is already polluting our fishing grounds. What must we expect from the chemical plant and the waste water they want to dispose of into the sea from which we get our food?” he added.
A camp has been established on the main road to the mine site. According to witness Jacques Boengkih, “The camp is well organized to last a long time. People from other mining villages have come with trucks loaded with food. A Noumea businessman has delivered a container of rice and sugar. Women are in charge of feeding the people and have organized their teams of young men to collect timber for cooking and to do the dishes.”
However, Boengkih also noted that “more than ten trucks full of French troops, as well as armored cars have moved towards the blockades,” adding that over the weekend “French troops charged the blockades and at one blockade site the troops fired with real ammunitions. A car has bullet impacts in the body and in the tires.” Boengkih also indicated that Kanak youths setting up a blockade at the Goro port have been arrested.
Boengkih insists that the Kanaks are advocating non-violent actions but also that they are determined. He notes that “One of the signs at the camp says, ‘The hardest is not to die, the hardest is being a foreigner on your own land.’”
Inco has a reputation for conflict with indigenous peoples at its global operations. Currently Inco is also facing opposition by the indigenous Karonsi’e Dongi at its operations in Indonesia. In March, Inco was removed from the Financial Times Sustainability Index (FTSE4Good) as it “failed to meet the FTSE4Good human rights criteria requirements”.
For more information and for pictures of the blockade: