Recent History of the Ongoing Struggle by Kanak People to Make Inco Respect Their Rights

Backgrounder by Catherine Coumans, February 2005

• October 2001: Then-President Georges Mandaoue and Secretary General Regis Vendegou of the Kanak Sénat Coutumier, visited Canada. They met with Inco executives in Toronto. They made it very clear that Inco had failed to consult with local NGOs and with the Sénat Coutumier. Mandaoue asked Inco executives why no one from Inco had ever asked to meet with the Sénat Coutumier. Mandaoue and Vendegou said that they would like to have an independent assessment of Inco’s EIA that was about to be released. Mandaoue and Vendegou also flew to Labrador to meet with the Innu and learn from them about the negotiation process they were engaged in with Inco for the Voisey’s Bay project.

• November 21, 2001: Nine Kanak leaders, representing the entire Kanak population from Djubea Kapone, the region of Inco’s proposed mine, presented Christian Paul, French Secretary of State for Overseas Territories, with a detailed petition outlining their concerns about the mine and their demands with respect to Inco’s proposed project. Their concerns cover social, cultural, legal, technical, economic and environmental aspects of Inco’s proposed mine. The Kanak leaders demanded a two year delay in the permitting of the mine so that a public inquiry into socio-cultural impacts could be conducted, and to allow enough time for an independent environmental review of Inco’s proposal.

• March 6, 2002: The Sénat Coutumier provided formal written comments on Inco’s EIA. Then-President Georges Mandaoue wrote “It is impossible to examine 1,800 pages with the rigor and serenity required in such a short period of time, and when the whole file presented does not even contain all the scientific and technical studies.” The formal conclusion of the Sénat Coutumier was that the “Customary Senate of New Caledonia, as an autonomous Institution, CANNOT ACCEPT AND APPROVE THE GORO-NICKEL INDUSTRIAL PROJECT as it has been presented, particularly with regards to the protection of the environment and of the health of the inhabitants of New Caledonia.”

• August 15, 2002: Following the sudden granting to Inco of prospecting rights to Prony, an area adjacent to Inco’s Goro concession, the National Council for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights of New Caledonia (CNDPA) used the occasion of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa to launch an “Appeal for aid and international solidarity” that calls for the revocation of Inco’s Prony permit, the application of international environmental laws in New Caledonia, and the listing of the “marine ecosystems” on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

• August 23, 2002: Indigenous leaders from the Sénat Coutumier, Customary Councils, the National Council for the Rights of the Kanak Indigenous People and other Kanak organizations prepared a “Solemn Declaration by the Kanak Indigenous People affirming their right on space and the Natural Heritage of Kanaky (New Caledonia). Kanak landowners of the Prony area started to build traditional houses, install families and plant trees on the Prony concession as a form of protest. Former government member and indigenous Kanak leader Raphaël Mapou, was forced to resign from the territorial government over his vocal opposition to the granting of the Prony concession to Inco.

• March 8-22, 2003: A delegation of six traditional Chiefs representing the Sénat Coutumier and the Rhéébù Nùù Committee visited Canada and met with Inco executives, a lawyer who helped the Innu negotiate their Impact and Benefit Agreement for Inco’s Voisey’s Bay project, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (David Kilgour), the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee, then-Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come, Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, Export Development Canada, The Grand Council of the Crees, the French Embassy, then-Minister Nault of Indian and Northern Affairs and they presented before the parliamentary standing committees of Environment and Sustainable Development and Foreign Affairs and International Trade. The goal of this tour was to learn as much as possible about how Canadian native peoples have negotiated agreements with Canadian Corporations and the role of the Canadian government in upholding native rights.

• April 21, 2004: Senator Dick Meureureu-Goin of the Sénat Coutumier and customary Chief Adrien Koroma came to Toronto to speak up at Inco’s Annual General Meeting.

• February 23 & March 8-9, 2004: Members of the Rhéébù Nùù committee blocked the entrance to the Goro Nickel site, forcing contractors to slow down all construction works.

• May 19, 2004: Raphaël Mapou is taken to court by Inco. He is charged with illegal actions by himself and the Rhéébù Nùù committee leading to the violation of Inco’s commercial and industrial rights. Inco demanded a payment by Raphaël Mapou and the Rhéébù Nùù Committee to the plaintiff (Inco) of the equivalent of US$ 7500 to compensate for economic losses plus legal fees.

• November 8, 2004: Judgement by Justice Dominique Gilles, who said: “The Rhéébù Nùù committee was conducting legal and recognized activities consistent with its constitution, activities which are obviously inscribed in setting up the political and cultural rights and the freedom to speak of the indigenous populations, rights which are legally protected as well.”

• January 10, 2005: Inco called on the Noumea Court of Appeal to review the previous court decision but only for the financial aspect (US$ 7500 to compensate for economic losses plus legal fees). Inco is still requiring Raphaël Mapou to pay these costs.