Kanak-led Opposition to Goro Nickel Widens in New Caledonia

Jamie Kneen

National Program Co-Lead

Even as two proposed nickel projects are shifting out of Canadian hands in New Caledonia – Falconbridge’s Koniambo project is now owned by Swiss Xstrata following its hostile takeover of Falconbridge, and Inco is now owned by Brazilian CVRD – the opposition to Inco’s Goro project is widening.

Long led by indigenous Kanaks through their organization Rhéébù Nùù, a first sign of a broadening base of opposition came in July of 2005 when CAUGERN, the Indigenous Council for the Management of Natural Resources, was set up. CAUGERN is a Kanak-led umbrella organization that includes Kanak organizations, the trade union USTKE, and primarily non-Kanak environmental groups.

More recently, meetings to discuss the Goro Nickel project held by the Southern Province government, as well as meetings called by Rhéébù Nùù and CAUGERN, are attracting a growing number of non-Kanak citizens of New Caledonia. The Southern Province is holding meetings to discuss the findings of an independent French team that is reviewing Goro Nickel’s Environmental Impact Assessment. Rhéébù Nùù and CAUGERN called a three hour meeting in the capital’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry on August 29th, 2006. The auditorium seats 186 people but was packed with more than 250 people, many of whom sat on the floor. According to MiningWatch Canada’s contact, Jacques Boengkih, “the audience was 80% French entrepreneurs and academics, women and men, the ladies being much more demanding than the men for more measures against the project’s environmental and social impacts.

Not only is the participant base of the opposition to irresponsible mining in New Caledonia broadening, but also the nature of the discussion. No longer is the debate about problems with the Goro project alone, many are raising concern about the environmental impacts of mining throughout New Caledonia and questioning whether New Caledonia is receiving enough benefits from the extraction of its nickel resources. Additionally, Kanaks and others are increasing calls for independence from France so that New Caledonians will be better able to take charge of their own destiny.

Rhéébù Nùù won an important legal victory on June 8th when Goro-Nickel’s 2004 licence to operate the Goro mine was revoked by magistrate Jean-Paul Briseul. However, as Goro’s construction permit was not revoked and construction continued until broad-based protests closed the site at the end of September.