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Property relations are often ambiguous in postcolonial settings. Property is only considered as such if socially legitimate institutions sanction it. In indigenous communities, access to natural resources is frequently subject to conflict and negotiation in a ‘social arena’. Settler arrivals and new economic possibilities challenge these norms and extend the arena. The article analyses conflicts and negotiations in the French overseas territory of New Caledonia in the light of its unique settler history and economic activity, focussing on the little-studied remote northern district of Poum on the Caledonian main island Grande Terre. In this region, the descendants of British fishermen intermarried with the majority Kanak clans. We illustrate the interaction between customary conflicts, European settlement, struggles for independence and a desire for economic development. Customary claims are in tension with the attractions of economic growth and service delivery, which has been slow in coming to Poum for reasons largely outside the control of local people.
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Forthcoming 2015 Settler colonial societies
Contested sites, land claims and economic development in Poum, New
Matthias Kowasch a*, Simon Batterbury b and Martin Neumann c
a Lecturer, Institute of Geography, University of Bremen, Germany
b Associate Professor, School of Geography, University of Melbourne, Australia
c Student, Raboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands
*corresponding author,
Property relations are often ambiguous in postcolonial settings. Property is only considered as such if
socially legitimate institutions sanction it. In indigenous communities, access to natural resources is
frequently multidimensional and overlapping, subject to conflict and negotiation in a ‘social arena’.
Settler arrivals and new economic possibilities challenge these norms and extend the arena. The
article analyses conflicts and negotiations in the French overseas territory of New Caledonia in the
light of its unique settler history and economic activity, focussing on the little-studied remote northern
district of Poum on the Caledonian main island Grande Terre. In this region the descendants of British
fishermen intermarried with the majority Kanak clans. We illustrate the interaction between
customary conflicts, European settlement, struggles for independence, and a desire for economic
development. Customary claims are in tension with the attractions of economic growth and service
delivery, which has been slow in coming to Poum for reasons largely outside the control of local
Keywords: Land claims, land conflicts, social identity, property, social arena, postcolonial settings,
New Caledonia, mining development, economic benefits
In postcolonial settings, land and water are only considered as ‘property’ if socially legitimate
institutions sanction this status.
Settlers and settler-colonial states generally believed that legally
obtained and individually registered property was legally defensible. But indigenous societies have
maintained multidimensional and overlapping property relations that are constantly negotiated, and
that sit alongside and partially overlap with Western tenure systems. This article explores the social
arena and territorial disputes in the district of Poum in the far north of New Caledonia’s main island
‘Grande Terre’. We show how local and external agents have driven a history of conflict over land and
water, linked to an absence of economic development possibilities. We first describe the social and
economic history of the region, including customary relations of power and control. We then explore a
particular postcolonial condition affecting the region; dashed hopes of economic development
following the failure to secure a major mining initiative due to geopolitical negotiations that took
place far removed from the locality.
Our starting point is the social ‘arena’, a term that encompasses different definitions and forms of
In an ‘arena’, heterogeneous strategic groups confront each other, driven by their clashing
interests. In settler-colonial regimes, as LeFevre states, everyday life always ‘…takes place in a
terrain already partly sedimented and partly penetrated by relations of power’.
Colonial settlement in
the francophone Pacific disturbed the social arena through displacement of local populations, leading
to territorial disputes, and resulting in significant cultural change.
In New Caledonia, the colonial period is still visible in the spatial distribution of indigenous Kanak
peoples (the first Melanesian inhabitants of the islands) and non-Kanak; in effect, a duality of life
spaces, culture and territory prevails.
There is constrained intercultural communication between these
two main populations, with limited fluidity in identities and cultural practices.
In northern Grande
Terre, mineral riches and the history of settlement have worked together to create a social arena
marked by dissent, largely over land and water, with its origins in traditional society but magnified by
the political economy of mining.
Another concern of the article is more practical; to show how local
people can deploy power to manage natural resources and through asserting social claims to property
and territory, achieving livelihoods and development for their communities.
Geographical and politico-economic context
New Caledonia was settled by Austronesian peoples over 3,000 years ago, and it has been a French
overseas territory since 1853. It served as a penal colony for fifty years, housing 4,000 prisoners from
the Paris Commune after 1871 and later housing prisoners from the Algerian war.
Prisoners received
a commuted sentence if they settled on the islands as libérés. Treatment of indigenous populations,
displaced to make way for urban development, ranching and later mining, was harsh and culminated
with the imposition of indigénat legal codes in 1887, significantly curtailing Kanak rights as sujets
français (French subjects) rather than citoyens (citizens) and coercing many of them onto reserves
away from their homelands and with limited freedom of movement.
The régime de lIndigénat was
not repealed until 1946. Kanak peoples and more recent settlers from Europe, Asia and the Pacific
exist today in a political condition of shared sovereignty, ratified in 1998 as the Nouma Accord.
Agreement on this status was provoked by violent struggles called les événements, indigenous
uprisings that took place against the French colonial regime in the 1980s (major revolts also occurred
in 1878 and 1917). Under shared sovereignty, France has since transferred political competences over
environmental law, exploitation of resources, primary school education, etc. to a New Caledonian
government, or to provincial authorities, but it has retained sovereign rights over foreign policy,
defence, the currency, the courts and police; New Caledonians remain French citizens.
New Caledonia, unlike other Pacific nations, has an extensive, multi-billion dollar nickel mining
industry that dwarfs other sources of state and private revenue. Historically, mining-related economic
development was sanctioned only by the state. This situation changed with the Nouma Accord,
which mandated changes in governance and the establishment of provincial authorities that largely
mirrored existing ethnic divisions and were empowered with budgets and new powers.
Grande Terre became the Northern Province, under Kanak majority control. A development of
particular note was the Province’s initiation of a large nickel mine and smelter, at the Koniambo
massif, in 2008. Production commenced in 2014. The government of the Northern Province supports
independence from France, and has encouraged urban development and job creation in the
neighbourhood of the new nickel smelter, that it controls through its mining company SMSP (Société
Minière du Sud Pacifique). The elected provincial leadership are seeking to create a financially viable
Kanak entity in the north, working at present within the confines of French administrative
arrangements and partial decolonisation. In order to discourage further violence and conflict, France is
generally happy to support the Northern Province financially and logistically, although it is opposed to
full independence for the whole archipelago, which is resource-rich and strategically important to it in
the predominantly Anglophone South Pacific. The south of the island and the Southern Province is, by
contrast, dominated by the Nouma metro-region where the European heritage is much stronger and
heavily Francophone in its political sympathies and culture.
Poum is an isolated district in the Northern Province. The northernmost point of Grande Terre is here,
and Poum is over 160km from the large Koniambo mine and growth-pole based around Kon, the
provincial capital of the Northern Province (Figure 1). In this article, we go on to describe how it has
remained marginal to the economic project of the Province, and not only because of its geographical
location. The case tells us much about the uneven spatial politics of partial decolonization, which
crosses scales to leave certain locations out of re-politicised economic development.
The district, which has existed since 1977 as a commune, contains a large bay, bordered by an
extensive coral reef. A part of the lagoon in Poum is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site and
monitored by a 30-strong committee.
The Poum administrative district was carved out in 1977,
having previously been a part of the neighbouring district of Koumac. It had 1,388 inhabitants in
2009, 80 per cent of them identifying as Kanak, with only 2.92 inhabitants/km2.
Poum’s peculiarity
lies in its colonial settlement history and complex relationships between inhabited small islands
(Baaba, Yande, Taanlô and Yenghbane, all with less than 20 year-round inhabitants, and Tie) set in a
large bay, and the mainland (see Figure 1). The villages belong to two customary districts: Arama and
Nenema, part of the Hoot Ma Waap cultural region of northern Grande Terre.
Nouma is over 400
km to the south and is connected by road. There is one small European-style administrative centre in
the district consisting of a school, post office, police station, church, clinic and municipal offices.
There is also a public body called OGAF (Opération groupée d’aménagement foncier) that assists
with local development, particularly fishing and tourism. Without a shop, convenience goods, fuel and
ice for fishermen come from up to an hour’s drive away. The administration is the most important
employer. The second is tourism because tourists, attracted by the visual beauty of the bay and
islands, can stay in the Malabou Beach hotel south on Nehoue Bay, a relatively luxurious resort
owned by Grands Hôtels (a Northern Province group) with over 35 employees, in two cottages
(Golone and Poingam), in a camping site (Pagop) or with local people. Cruise ships once docked
regularly in the Poum lagoon and facilities for visitors are still visible, but the activity stopped in 2010
because of a customary and economic conflict described below. An important source of revenue for
local residents was lost.
Fishing presents opportunities for the islanders, especially for the Kanak village of Tiabet. There are
approximately twenty licensed commercial fishermen, but they cannot easily obtain bank loans for
boats and equipment. They also report a declining catch over the last few years. Another problem is
the lack of a cold chamber for storing their catch. Fishermen need a licence to sell directly to hotels or
other official outlets and most of them cannot afford this. So the fishermen sell directly to
intermediaries, who have permits to take fish to markets or supermarkets in Nouma. The district also
has a small labour force maintaining its roads and infrastructure. Other local employment is with the
Poum mine, which is not at full production and currently has approximately thirty employees on the
escarpment south of Titch. It is owned by the chief French mining company in New Caledonia SLN
(Société Le Nickel), and there is also a substantial outflow of workers to Koniambo, Tiebaghi and
other mines. Agriculture is limited because of infertile soils and water supply difficulties.
Figure 1: District of Poum, showing areas of conflict
Titch is the only Kanak village on the Poum peninsula itself, with a population of 120.
inhabitants belong to four clans: Boaouva, Padi, Boula and also Tidjine. The Tidjine clan originate
from a much older village on the other side of the mountains (Crescent Bay), which was abandoned
with the arrival of Christianity nearly 130 years ago. At this time, the London Missionary Society was
active around the bay and on the islands. The Boaouva clan offered land to the Tidjine families,
according to customary practice. The Padii and the Boula clan are allies of the Boaouva: they ‘walk
together’ in customary issues. The small European population is largely engaged in pastoralism and
tourism management.
New economic activity on customary land in New Caledonia tends to spark conflicts. Traditional
landowners assert their rights and attempt to claim future material benefits. In Poum, mining and
tourism projects each appear to promise benefits for the traditional landowners, but local aspirations
have been thwarted by deals and compacts made outside the region. In what follows, we explain the
different land claims and conflicts around land and sea tenure and analyse the strategic logics of the
competitive actors in Poum.
Land as identity card and intellectual property
In New Caledonia, the identities of indigenous Kanak peoples are built on the clan’s history, recorded
and transmitted orally; the duration of occupancy is always a source of respect and prestige. Land is a
form of cultural identification for many Kanak.
For the Kanak pro-independence leader Jean-Marie
Tjibaou, murdered in 1989, ‘land is not apprehended as an objective reality of property. A clan, that
loses its land, loses its personality’.
The geographer Jean-Pierre Doumenge defines land as an
‘identity card, a place where the totem acts, the ancestors rest in peace, recipient of beliefs and sign of
the social status [of clans]’.
The specificity of the clan in New Caledonia is its history: the place and circumstances of its
appearance, the journey that the clan undertook, and the recognition of its symbolic importance. The
social identity of each clan is registered as an itinerary, as a series of places where the group passed.
An identity is always constructed and never given. The places where the clan lived are deemed sacred
and all have a name in one of the twenty-eight Kanak languages. Land legitimacy follows from these
sacred sites. This applies to Kanak as well as to other indigenous communities.
Land can also be
given to another clan for agriculture or settlement. In this case, the transfer of land is not a transfer of
property, but confers overlapping legitimacies. The original inhabitants share land rights with settlers.
Lund and Sikor note: ‘Obviously, legitimacy is not a fixed and finite substance: it is a result of
processes of legitimization, some with distinct authorship, others as reproduction of mores; some
successful, others less so’.
In this sense, land legitimacy and property are subjects of perpetual
construction and renegotiation.
During early French colonization, there was little negotiation. Many indigenous peoples were driven
from productive or useful land onto reserves by the new settlers through the cantonnement policy that
began in 1880. Cantonnement created a veritable wall between the two populations.
The situation
around Poum is unclear, but it seems the worst effects of cantonnement were avoided by virtue of the
regions geographical marginality, and by the European heritage of some of its fisher population.
Land was taken, however, for mining and ranching. Pro-Kanak land reform in New Caledonia started
in earnest in 1978, with the goal of rebalancing land allocation between indigenous and allochthonous
The main goal of the public agency ADRAF (Agency for Rural Development and Regional
Planning) has been the acquisition of private land and its redistribution to Kanak clans. ADRAF buys
private land with state funds, and researches different land claims before redistributing the estates.
The clans form a so-called GDPL
in order to claim land. An ADRAF pool consists of acquired
land, often held back from reallocation by concurrent claims or conflicts. In 2010, private land and
Kanak customary land attained parity for the first time on Grande Terre at 295,300 hectares each (see
Figure 2). In recent times, ADRAF has also been involved with facilitating economic development
activities on customary land.
Figure 2: Land distribution over time on Grande Terre (Source: ADRAF 2012)
Marilyn Strathern suggests that land is also a form of intellectual property. She notes that in
Western jurisprudence land is often held up in contrast to intellectual property as the example of
something that is manifestly tangible.
But in Melanesia, people value the intangible but vital
capacity for relationships that the land and its fruits mobilize.
As Noel Castree states:
To simplify, many indigenous peoples are currently seeking to reappropriate three things that,
historically, have been taken away from them: namely, parcels of land and water, material
artefacts (e.g. ceremonial goods like masks), and knowledges (e.g. designs and medicinal
In New Caledonia, two customary associations that involve several Kanak clans, one from the district
of Yaté in the Southern Province, have used the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of
Indigenous Peoples to make such claims. Article 28.1 of the Declaration explains that:
10 17 18
0 1 1
25 18 18
65 64 63
1978 1998 2010
Public land
Private land (non-
ADRAF 'pool'
Customary land
…indigenous peoples have the right to redress, by means that can include restitution or, when
this is not possible, just, fair and equitable compensation, for the lands, territories and resources
which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been
confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.
Equitable compensation in the form of royalties to indigenous landowners signifies a source of
revenues and material security, but depends on knowing who the landowners are. As Castree explains,
property rights are among the most legally secure and materially effective rights that individuals and
groups can possess. These rights promise to be an important tool for those indigenous groups seeking
to exert strong forms of place control.
In northern New Caledonia, while property rights have
advanced significantly in the late 20th Century, royalties, cash payments or other forms of
compensation are not paid as a matter of policy, ostensibly to avoid conflicts between different clans
who claim legitimacy.
Colonial settlement, Kanak land claims and attributions in Poum
Today, 67 per cent (31,103 hectares) of Poums territory is in public ownership, 17 per cent (7,874
hectares) is designated customary land and 16 per cent (7,323 hectares) are private estates, the latter
held by a range of individuals including settler families like the Winchesters who, for example,
completed a major land sale in 1978.
A catalogue of land transactions and claims indicates that from
1882-1972 there were some additions and subtractions to customary land in the Nenema district,
generally administrative in nature and without major losses to private individuals.
A distinctive
feature today is the 781 hectares or 10 per cent of the acquired land still in the ADRAF pool,
because it has ambiguous or overlapping claims. ADRAF has identified three areas of major land
conflict: Titch-Mouac, Dahote-Dahma and Boatpass-Île Tie. Titch-Mouac and Dahote-Dahma are
conflicts between clans, while Boatpass-Île Tie is an internal clan conflict. Given the gradual
restitution of land since the 1970s, there are no major disputes between European settlers and Kanak
remaining, other than issues with the SLN Poum mine.
The Titch-Mouac-conflict consists of the overlapping land claims of the Boaouva, Padii and Boula
clans on the one hand and of the Dayé clan on the other. Both groups claim land on the Poum
peninsula and on Mouac island, including a plot in the administrative village of Poum where a small
commercial development and filling station will be completed. In 1978, the Land Office
the first land claim on the peninsula, by the Boaouva clan. In early 1980, it claimed the entire
peninsula including the mine. In 1986, the first land attribution was made for the Boaouva clan; a plot
with an area of 25 hectares which is located in the North-East of the peninsula. In 1992, the Boaouva,
Padii and Boula clans founded a GDPL called ‘Boubopa’ and in 1995 they received 168 hectares.
Today, the GDPL Boubopa estate covers approximately 200 hectares.
The first Day claims date back to 1978 and cover the islands of Mouac and Nba. Since 1980, the
Day have also claimed the land where the administrative village of Poum is located. In 2008, they
sent a letter to ADRAF also asking for customary recognition on the Poum peninsula, as they asserted
first arrival privileges as traditional ‘landowners’. Recently, this claim has been abandoned. No land
has yet been attributed to the Day clan.
The Winchesters are descendants of Scottish fishermen who were drawn to the islands for the sea-
cucumber trade and later intermarried with Kanak. Alexander Winchester arrived on Mouac around
1855 and married a Kanak from Mar. They had three children. In the 1850s, a hundred Europeans
lived the region’s capital of Mouac. Community life was based on fishing, agriculture and trading.
John Henry Williams (probably of English origin) moved to neighbouring Nba island,
but the
Williams family appeared to have retained private property on Mouac. Today, some of Mouac Island
is potentially subject to state attribution through ADRAF, while the other half is privately owned land
bought from the Williams family by the Winchester family in 1932.
To end years of conflict over control of this small island ADRAF wants to buy the rest of the land
from the Winchester family to surrender it to the Day clan. The Winchester descendants are no
longer living on Mouac but there is still a family cemetery there. At the time of writing they will not
sell all their land, but ADRAF has negotiated for the restoration of a small 6 hectare part to the Day.
At the same time, the Boaouva clan have recently asserted that there is a sacred place on the island.
It was P&O Cruises Australia, working with the local company ‘Poum Adventure’, that organized a
cruise ship program in the bay. In 2003 a committee was created which brought together the Boaouva
and Day clans. The committee was responsible for maintaining beach facilities on Mouac Island
(Figure 3), organizing activities in the ‘Shelloh village’ in the administrative centre of Poum (dancing,
sale of handicrafts and food) and managing finances. In Poum, some cruise passengers were taken to
see Titch and the administrative village. Others visited the mine by bus. On Mouac, the passengers
stayed on the beach and had a large barbecue. In 2007, four P&O Cruises Australia ships came to
New Caledonia making a total of 158 stops, 5 of which were in Poum. The committee received
around 400,000 CFP (US$4,611) for each boat arrival from the tour operators. Since the cessation of
activities in 2010, the infrastructure on Mouac and in Poum has fallen into disrepair (Figure 3),
although in 2013 and 2014 the Shelloh site in Poum was used for the Shaxhabign cultural festival and
a seafood event.
Figure 3: Mouac island (Source: M. Kowasch, July 2012)
Two issues seem to have led to the withdrawal of these cruise visits. One concerned alleged
misappropriation of committee funds, while the other concerned the existing land conflicts over
Mouac. In any event, the women of Titch are still disappointed with the shutdown, which gave them
some income. Whatever the truth of the land tenure issues, the claims to Mouac seem to conceal
economic interests in the potential profits from the cruise ship visits.
Mining history and development in Poum
A second major source of conflict is the relationship between mining and local clans around Poum.
Nickel, copper and other minerals have been exploited patchily since the 1870s. The first traces of
mining extraction date from 1876, when a certain M. Beauvais is mentioned in the Official Journal of
New Caledonia (JONC) as obtaining a cobalt concession of 300 hectares. In 1894, M. Montagnat
applied for another cobalt exploration in competition to M. Beauvais and obtained 232.3 hectares in
March 1895. Mines were also developed on the islands of Baaba (1904) and Yand (1906). Other
mining operators followed, including British companies using New Caledonia’s penal labour.
In 1911, the JONC notes that M. Montagnat waived his mining concessions in Poum and lost them in
1913. The first large nickel concession was begun during the Second World War. The companies
Lafleur and Ballande carried out further small scale exploitation at the top of the Poum massif
between 1954 and 1965, with negative environmental impacts: nickel deposits are located in
mountaintops, and early mining simply blew up and bulldozed these sites, leaving them bare and
sometimes with polluted spoil pushed over into river basins. In 1962, there was an initial conflict
between the Lafleur company and the village of Titch, which wanted compensation for mining waste
descending into the community and denying them clean drinking water. Finally, Lafleur made the
chief of Titch a cash payment, built a new channel, and delivered 10 trucks of sand to the Kanak
Between 1965 and 1970, the American Patino Mining Corporation bought the mining titles
from Lafleur and Ballande. During a boom in prices, the possibility of constructing a ferronickel
processing plant was discussed for the first time; the added value from nickel comes when it is
smelted down, and then sold as ingots. Patino and the French SLN became partners of the French
mining company COFREMMI (Compagnie française dentreprises minières, métallurgiques et
dinvestissements) in order to create the mining operator SOMMENI (Société Métallurgique du
Nickel). SOMMENI was charged with exploiting the Poum and also the Tiébaghi deposits further
south, to begin in 1973, and to build a nickel smelter with a production capacity of 40,000 tonnes. In
1972, the potential project was displaced from Poum/Tiébaghi to Koumac around 60 kilometres south
of Poum. But the different companies withdrew with the declining price of nickel on the world
market. Four years later, the French state reproached Patino for not building the smelter and
repurchased its Poum and Tiébaghi mining titles. In 1996, the New Caledonian SMSP took up the
Poum peninsula mining titles but soon gave them up in light of the major political economic
manoeuvrings occurring elsewhere on the island.
SMSP is owned by the Northern Province of New Caledonia and supported by the independence
movement, so its involvement in mining is linked to the economic aspirations of Kanak people. Kanak
had long felt the dominant SLN company took its profits to France, and to its parent company Eramet.
The SLN was at the time the only company with a nickel processing plant in New Caledonia.
In the
1990s, SMSP and the Northern Province began a search for an industrial partner to build their own
nickel processing plant in the hopes of adding local value to ore mining and to rebalancing the
disparities between the north and the south as part of political emancipation for the Kanak peoples.
SMSP also wanted to break the stranglehold of having to use the antiquated Doniambo smelter and so
they partnered with the Canadian group Falconbridge, at the time the third largest global producer of
nickel, to develop a major project.
The problem for SMSP was that they did not control sufficient nickel ores to supply a processing
plant. Such a large project would need enough nickel to be viable for 50 years. The French Prime
Minister Lionel Jospin favoured a new smelter and the French government held that the best solution
available was to transfer the mining titles of SLN-owned Tibaghi massif in Northern Province (well
to the South of Poum) to SMSP in exchange for the Poum titles.
If the smelter was built on the Poum
peninsula it would receive ores from both the Tibaghi and Poum massifs.
The proposed plant, whose exact location we could not discover, would have transformed Poum into a
substantial industrial centre, however Eramet/SLN and the French industrial Minister vetoed the
transfer of the mining titles. In Versailles in 1997, negotiations about economic diversification in the
north continued. But they were curtailed by a master-stroke. Andr Dang, head of SMSP, a man with
Vietnamese origins but strong Kanak sympathies, proposed a new deal: instead of Tibaghi, vest
SLN’s Koniambo
titles to SMSP in exchange for the Poum mine. The French state wanted the
negotiations to succeed, New Caledonia needed political stability, and the guaranteed access to nickel
resources was a condition of the independence movement for continuing negotiations with the
loyalists. The country had strikes at the time and there were real fears of a new civil war developing.
After some pressure from the French government, Eramet/SLN finally accepted the swap of the
mining titles with adequate financial compensation, and a clause about a re-exchange of the titles if
the Koniambo plant was never built. The ‘Bercy Agreement’, was signed in February 1998.
was the victim of this episode of political pragmatics.
SMSP was permitted to continue mining in Poum until 2002 and then 2005 following social troubles
in Titch, with due compensation to SLN for this delay. Since 2005, the transfer of mining titles has
been irreversible. The hopes of the local population for a smelter in Poum, with employment and
economic development, were extinguished. Local residents feel overlooked and marginalised by
regional and global forces outside their control. With SLN now in control of the Poum deposits, the
regional population at least have hopes for some expansion of the mine. SLN believes faster
exploitation of the acidic nickel-rich deposits may wait until the economics are more favourable,
probably not before 2019, although world price fluctuations could easily change this. But the local
population is voting with their feet: newspapers ran several articles in 2013 and 2014 about
outmigration of the already small population, resulting in a strong decline in school enrolments in
Poum and Arama. Many families are moving south to the Voh-Kon-Pouembout zone to seek
employment in and around the now-operational Koniambo project.
Mining benefits and environmental damage in Poum
A third source of discontent is the environment, driven by concerns over water quality and water
management. Today, nickel production from the SLN mine is a modest 25,000 tonnes of ore per
Direct material benefits from the mine are quite slight: SLN employs only 10 people on site
(four administration jobs and six truck drivers). Six workers come from Poum, one from the district of
Ougoa on the East coast, the rest from elsewhere. The international literature shows many cases
where material benefits from mining development are generally lacking for local indigenous
Poum is no exception. There are not even cash payments for damage sustained to natural
Environmental mining impacts are often described as a ‘disaster’ for local peoples.
In Poum, the
mining development has had a significant impact on drinking water. The supply to the administrative
village of Poum and Titch is a constant problem. Poum has three groundwater reserves, the best and
largest of which is Titch at the foot of the plateau where SLN and its predecessors extracted nickel.
During periods of heavy rainfall, the water is undrinkable, polluted with mine runoff. Mining has also
led to erosion and landslides. Most of the inhabitants refuse to pay for their unreliable and polluted
drinking water.
Although SLN has dug some new bores, water is consistently trucked in at great
expense for the commune, and locals have blockaded the mine on several occasions for this reason
and during labour disputes. These are reminiscent of other strikes and blockades against SLN caused
by multiple grievances.
SLN is proposing new bores to supply drinking water if other arguments
about land access and control can be resolved. Water has become an emblem of the larger sense of
disenfranchisement and loss of economic development; like access to land, access to clean water is a
source of socio-political struggle, not only a health and sanitation issue.
Subcontracting, local development and customary conflicts in Poum
The lack of compensation for mining damage can be explained politically. In the Northern Province,
governed by the independence party PALIKA (Parti de Libération Kanak) in cooperation with pro-
independence delegates, a request for royalties or cash payments to compensate for environmental
damage or for the appropriation of land is not generally permitted. Politicians want to avoid rent-
seeking and clan conflict, and prefer instead that local populations become partners in enterprises or
that the guilty party fixes the problem. The case of subcontracting in Poum, which is rather complex
but important to our story, is illustrative of this debate and a fourth issue for potential conflict.
Subcontracting can generate economic and social benefits for indigenous peoples, particularly where
royalties are denied.
In Poum, five companies are subcontracting for the French mining company SLN: they are
SONAREP (Societe de roulage d’exploitation et de navigation de Poum), Nickel Poum, CALTRAC,
VHP and GoPoum. The subcontracting company Nickel Poum originated in the GDPL Yadashaya,
which represents a part of the Boaouva clan. During heavy rainfall in 2008-09, mining waste storage
crumbled and pollution scattered in the lagoon. As SLN holds the mining titles, the company was
obliged to restore the damage. Nickel Poum won the sub-contract. It has 12 workers, dispersed in
seven different enterprises, with a small profit margin of between 10-16 per cent. VHP, CALTRAC
and GoPoum employ all two or three people, most of them from Poum, though GoPoum is the most
localised. The mineworkers, thirty in total, include subcontractors. SLN wants to extend their nickel
production in Poum, from 25,000 to 50,000 tonnes, but their future plans are uncertain. They prefer to
create nickel ingots in New Caledonia, and then sell those, rather than exporting the ore overseas for
processing, as SONAREP would prefer.
Described as the ‘Engine of Poum’ by the Caledonian newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes,
SONAREP is the fifth subcontractor, created in 1999, and it has the explicit objective of creating local
jobs. The GDPL Boubopa is the majority shareholder of the small company, with 42 per cent of the
shares, while SOFINOR (Société de financement et d’investissement de la Province Nord) holds 34
per cent of the shares, and the individual shareholders 24 per cent.
SONAREP loads nickel ore onto
boats, working for companies across the island, including the SMP mining company in Poro on the
East coast and at the Ngo mine in Plum in the South. They have worked in Poum since 2009. In 2011,
SONAREP had 25 casual employees (ten tug boat sailors, five wharf hands and ten on cranes). The
relationship between SLN and SONAREP remained tricky, with SLN offering only subcontracting
and no closer contractual arrangements. SONAREP blockaded the mine for this reason, most recently
in November 2013.
Because SONAREP considers itself as an economic instrument to help local communities, it
distributes donations to social associations and institutions in Poum. In April 2012, for example, it
dispensed US$24,650 including $10,600 to a Poum cricket team, $4,260 to the Poum secondary
school, $1,130 to the boarding school, $1,060 to the seafood association, $1,130 to the Catholic
school in Arama and a further U$4,250 to primary schools in Poum and Tiabet (Les Nouvelles
Calédoniennes, July 4, 2012). In 2011, the company gave a respectable dividend of US$17.30 per share
to its shareholders.
Fuel supply remains a major issue in Poum. The official filling station is 60 kilometres south. Without
petrol, boat trips for tourists and fishing can suffer, as does some small investments in agriculture. In
2012, SONAREP began a project on land it has purchased close to the Poum wharf to construct a
filling station and shop, calling this a ‘commercial centre’. Customary and economic conflicts then
stalled the development after the foundations were laid, with longstanding inter-clan debates stalling
its completion. SONAREP was in competition with Nickel Poum to build it. The directors of
SONAREP and Nickel Poum both come from Titch and are both Boaouva. The social arena is tight,
with competition between actors that know each other well, and yet have different interests.
Economic, customary and land legitimacy conflicts overlap. Negotiations and arrangements become
complex, because personal and family relationships enter in the ‘arena’. Nevertheless, in mid 2014,
progress was reported: ‘A grocery store, a filling station, a shop for household goods... The future
shopping centre will make life easier for residents and tourists. Work is progressing and the shops
should be delivered in late June’ (Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes May 6, 2014).
Contested places: land legitimacy without real land attribution?
How to satisfy a request for land legitimacy by indigenous peoples, as Poum has experienced, without
real land attribution through private property? ADRAF is conscious of this problem as it works
through the messy politics of land tenure, but resolution is not obvious. There are two layers of claims
to be distinguished: the first is a grant of land to a person or a group. The second is not land
attribution, but a simple recognition of traditional land ownership, a ‘right to the place’.
Naoutyine, President of the Northern Province and a prominent pro-independence leader, sees local
land claims in a national context: ‘If we refer the claims to clan property, it may lead us to recognize
that there are areas that are ‘free’. We see things differently: we use the land claims to claim the entire
New Caledonia.’
In this way, claims to the Poum peninsula are unlikely to stop its current use; SLN
will not halt mining nickel because of any adverse resolution of land claims.
Contested places and land conflicts are generally first occupancy disputes, as we find all over Grande
Terre. The land claim (or legitimacy claim) does not take place in a political vacuum. As Lund and
Sikor note, ‘Enforcing certain decisions about property is often met with resistance from those whose
rights are eroded in the process.’
This same kind of conflict emerged on Mouac. In this case,
legitimacy claims exist in parallel, and no clan rights have yet been eroded; but the actions of
asserting these claims have had negative economic consequences when the cruise ship visits stopped.
The financial benefits from the cruise ship visits were managed by the Shelloh committee. The
distribution of money also led to disagreements exacerbated by customary disputes. Future financial
benefits from activities on the island colour a lack of resolution of the issue. A customary process may
take years to resolve, even decades. It may be that both parties find an agreement, but this remains
uncertain. Land claims can, after all, be a kind of instrument for receiving financial benefits. Castree
notes that it is often the case that claims about nature and actions based upon those claims can
serve as instruments of power and domination.
Indeed they do.
Nonetheless, postcolonial social arenas, land claims and property are not the only way by which
indigenous peoples are able to benefit from natural resources. ‘Access’ can include access to
employment, education and services. Ribot and Peluso explain that ‘In addition to property, these
include technology, capital, markets, labour, knowledge, identities and social relations.
In the case
of Poum, the local subcontractors to SLN benefit from the nickel industry, not through royalties, but
via the labour market. Lund and Sikor highlight that it is not uncommon that ‘people may hold
property rights to some resources without having the capacity to derive any material benefit from
The authors distinguish ‘property’ from ‘access’: ‘This is exactly what the distinction
between property and access is about: property is about claims which are considered legitimate, and
access is about the ‘ability to benefit’’. In Poum, access to land, clean water, and to economic benefits
are all pressing issues.
In a social arena different actors compete over economic benefits, development, legitimacy, prestige
and power. A variety of ‘actor strategies’ are pursued by Kanak peoples to obtain material benefits for
households, clan or community and in anticipation of future development. These differ markedly from
Western conceptions of private property, individual advancement and management of natural
resources. There are five factors that emerge from this analysis of the social arena of Poum and its
location in a French settler colony with attenuated global economic links.
First, the social arena is characterized by the loss of development opportunities and lost hopes: local
struggles for recognition and emancipation.
The project to build a northern nickel smelter to
‘rebalance’ the territorial economy settled not in Poum but 160 kilometres to the south. Local peoples
perceive this as a missed opportunity, even if mining extraction in Poum could have meant
exacerbating negative environmental impacts such as the water pollution that some households
already suffer. The geographical isolation of Poum means this issue of a loss of employment and a
development opportunity is still felt keenly; it remains a dominant narrative among local people.
Second, environmental issues, like water supply and pollution, can be used as a visible and symbolic
tool to bargain for larger concerns, in this case to re-establish local control of mining development.
Water quality in Titch has become a symbol of alienation from economic development. Yet mining
and tourism based on the attractive bay and islands will find it hard to coexist in the district, a point
not lost on local political representatives. Water quality and supply are still real problems in Poum.
The district administration negotiated with SLN to reduce environmental impacts and to take greater
care over holding-tank failure and erosion. Indigenous subcontractors repaired damage following
heavy rainfall but there was no compensation paid or permitted. The lagoon to the North of Poum is
one of the six marine clusters around the islands on the World Heritage Sites List, which is potentially
valuable for tourism if mining discharges can be avoided. The World Heritage status of the lagoon
warns mining operators that their activities are controlled to a certain extent.
Third, we have to distinguish different perceptions of ‘development’ operating in this complex social
arena. The main goal of the indigenous subcontractor SONAREP is to plough profits back into
support for the local Melanesian population. The Kanak culture of benefit-sharing coexists with
commercial activities. In contrast, the mining operator SLN is bound to global shareholder demands
and market forces. Different perceptions of development can create conflict over what constitutes real
local development – large scale resource exploitation, or small scale economic activity with funds put
back into community institutions? It is unclear that SLN has really obtained a ‘social licence to
operate’ from local residents since assuming control of the mine.
Fourth, the social arena of Poum is a ‘microcosm’ of conflicts, negotiations and arrangements found
all over Grande Terre.
Figure 1 shows the three areas of land conflicts according to ADRAF, and we
have focussed on the Titch-Mouac conflict. All the actors within this ‘micro-arena’ know each other,
and they are often family and members of the same clan, or inhabit the same community. If any
benefits or resources are not shared equitably, more power or prestige for one competitive actor
decreases the power of another. People with authority often have multiple functions: director of a
subcontracting company, vice-director of the municipality, and member of the council of elders in the
village. New Caledonians call this avoir plusieurs casquettes’ (‘having several caps’). These ‘big
men’ ally customary, economic and political influence. But the balance of power and authority is
fragile, and a development proposal like the filling station or a land claim, with potential prestige or
economic benefit, can easily disrupt it.
Finally, fifth, we have to distinguish between property rights and land legitimacy. In postcolonial New
Caledonia, ADRAF, while aiming to return private (mostly settler) land to Kanak clans, finds the
attribution to legitimate claimants to be problematic. Land is an identity card for Kanak clans, whose
social status is interwoven with land access and control, but often without ‘real’ property legitimated
by the state and cadastral surveys. In this remote region property rights do not necessarily lead to
material benefits anyway; the filling station was blocked for long time by conflict, and in other
undisputed areas, tourism and ranching has advanced very slowly. In this way, symbolic attachment to
land and property sits in an uneasy relationship with the unrealised possibilities of economic
development. But visions of future development are themselves conflictual. Tourism will conflict with
mining, and modern facilities conflict with aspects of heritage and custom. The social arena in this
fascinating region is simultaneously social, political and economic.
Christian Lund and Thomas Sikor, ‘The Politics of Possession’. In Access and Property: A Question of Power
and Authority. Ed. Christian Lund and Thomas Sikor, (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009): 1-22.
We thank the Institute of Research for Development (IRD) for advice and administrative organisation of
fieldwork in Poum, especially Pierre-Yves Le Meur and Jean-Brice Herrenschmidt. We acknowledge funding
from the Caledonian CNRT ‘Gouvernance minière’ research project directed by Le Meur. Finally, we are deeply
thankful to everybody in Poum who responded to our questions. Special thanks to Narcisse Boaouva from Titch
who welcomed and accommodated Neumann.
Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan, Anthropology and Development: Understanding Contemporary Social Change.
(London & New York: Zed, 2005).
Tate LeFevre, ‘Representation, resistance and the logics of difference: indigenous culture as political resource
in the settler-state’. Settler Colonial Studies, 3, no. 2 (2013):136-140.
Kowasch, Matthias, ‘Le dveloppement de l’industrie du nickel et la transformation de la valeur de
l’environnement en Nouvelle Caldonie’, Journal of Political Ecology 19: (2012a) 202-220, quote on p205.
Tate LeFevre, ‘Turning niches into handles: Kanak youth, associations and the construction of an indigenous
counter-public sphere’. Settler Colonial Studies, 3, no.2 (2013), 215.
Fieldwork was conducted by the authors in November 2011 and in July 2012 in the administrative centre of
Poum, on Yenghbane island and in the Kanak villages of Titch and Arama. Our qualitative enquiry consisted of
over thirty informal interviews with customary chiefs and clan members, with public authorities (major and
administrative staff), and as well as with subcontracting managers and the mining companies SLN and SMSP. In
addition, Kowasch worked in New Caledonia before and after this study, on the perception and the participation
of the indigenous Kanak peoples in the mining sector, mining governance, local development and the values
attached to places. Neumann worked in Poum for several weeks in 2012 during an internship at IRD and
explored the Caledonian archives. He was welcomed by a Kanak family in the village of Titch.
Peter Brown, ‘A singular plurality of voices: tradition and modernity’. In Francophone voices, ed. Kamal
Salhi, (Exeter: Elm Bank Publications, 1999). Pp 125-140.
Isabelle Merle, ‘La construction d’un droit foncier colonial. De la proprit collective à la constitution des
réserves en Nouvelle-Caldonie’. Enquête 7 (1998): 97-126.
Mathias Chauchat, Les institutions en Nouvelle-Calédonie. (Nouma: Centre de documentation pdagogique
de Nouvelle-Calédonie, Collection Université, 2011). Matthias Kowasch and Peter Lindenmann.’New flags,
upward forces and sheltered harbours: The new ‘Great Game’ in the Pacific Islands region. Pacific
Geographies 41, Jan/Feb., (2014): 4-9. http://www.pacific- Nick Maclellan, ‘Politics heats up in New Caledonia’.
Islands Business, February, (2013): 17-20.
Hamid Mokaddem, L’Accord de Nouméa pour tous. Publications de l’IFMNC. (Nouma : Institut de
Formation des Maîtres de la Nouvelle-Calédonie, 2012).
See also UNESCO, Operational guidelines for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention. WHC.
11/01. (Paris: UNESCO World Heritage Centre, 2011).
ISEE (Institut de la Statistique et des Etudes Economique), (2009),
Alain Saussol, L’Héritage. Essai sur le problème foncier mélanésien en Nouvelle-Calédonie, (Paris:
Publication de la Société des Océanistes n°40.,1979). There is an anthropological literature concerning Arama,
which is situated one hour’s drive from Poum on the east coast. Denis Monnerie, ‘Reprsentations de la socit,
statuts et temporalits à Arama (Nouvelle-Caldonie)’, L’Homme, 157 (2001): 59-86.
Shape files supplied by ADRAF (2012/2014); DITTT (2007): Data supplied to authors.
ISEE (2009).
Glenn Banks, ‘Understanding ‘resource’ conflicts in Papua New Guinea’, Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 49 (2008):
23-34, quote on p25; Matthias Kowasch, ‘Le développement de l’industrie du nickel’ (2012), quote on p203.
Jean-Marie Tjibaou and Philippe Missotte, Kanaké, Mélanésien de Nouvelle-Calédonie, (Papeete, Editions du
Pacifique, 1976), quote on p60.
Jean-Pierre Doumenge, Du terroir … à la ville, les Mélanésiens et leurs espaces en Nouvelle-Calédonie, coll.
Travaux et documents de gographie tropicale, (Bordeaux : CEGET/CNRS, 1982), quote on p229.
Matthias Kowasch, ‘Le développement de l’industrie du nickel’ (2012); Matthias Kowasch, ‘Les lieux
toponymiques en Nouvelle-Calédonie un champ de recherche ouvert’. Enquêtes Rurales N°14 (2012); Michel
Naepels, ‘ Réforme foncière et propriété dans la région de Houaïlou (Nouvelle-Caldonie)’. Etudes rurales
Janvier-juin (2006): 43-54.
Manuel Castells, The power of identity. Oxford: Blackwell (1997).
Christian Lund and Thomas Sikor, ‘The Politics of Possession’. quote on p6.
Matthias Kowasch, ‘Le développement de l’industrie du nickel’ (2012); Pierre-Yves Le Meur, ‘Réflexions sur
un oxymore – Le débat du « cadastre coutumier » en Nouvelle-Calédonie’. In La Nouvelle-Calédonie, vers un
destin commun? ed. Elas Faugère and Isabelle Merle, (Paris: Editions Karthala, 2010). Pp 101-127; Christian
Lund and Thomas Sikor, ‘The Politics of Possession’.
Tate LeFevre, ‘Turning niches into handles’.
Matthias Kowasch, ‘Le développement de l’industrie du nickel, 206.
GDPL is a local association licensed to do business, rather like an aboriginal corporation in Australia.
ADRAF, Bilan chiffré de la réforme foncière 1978-2010 (2012),
Marilyn Strathern, ‘Land: Intangible or Tangible Property?’ In Land Rights. The Oxford Amnesty Lectures
2005. ed. Chesters, T., (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009) 13-38, quote on p19.
Marilyn Strathern, ‘Land: Intangible or Tangible Property?’, 29; see also Matthias Kowasch, ‘Fieldwork in a
context of decolonization: the example of a French overseas territory (New Caledonia)’, Erdkunde, (in press).
Noel Castree, ‘Differential geographies: place, indigenous rights and ‘local’ resources’. Political Geography
23 (2004), 151
United Nations, Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2008): quote on p10,
Noel Castree, ‘Differential geographies’, 160.
Unpublished ORSTOM land survey 1980.
Unpublished ORSTOM land survey 1980.
The ADRAF was called ‘Land Office’ until 1986.
The Morgan brothers arrived in 1880, and worked on Baaba, Yenghbane, and Taanlô. They exported copra.
The French Ballande family were also on Baaba. Little is known about how land tenure was managed with
customary owners, but clearly the settlers had the support of the territorial administration.
Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes, 21 January 2012.
Document 37W69 Poum Lafleur, fonds SLN. Archives territoriales de la Nouvelle Caldonie.
This plant, called ‘Doniambo’ was built in 1910 near the New Caledonian capital Nouma, in the Southern
Leah S. Horowitz. Stranger in One’s Own Home: A micropolitical analysis of the engagements of Kanak
villagers with a multinational mining project in New Caledonia, PhD thesis, Australian National University
(2003); Matthias Kowasch, Les populations kanak face au développement de l’industrie du nickel en Nouvelle-
Calédonie, Thèse de Doctorat de Géographie, Université Montpellier III/ Université de Heidelberg (2011); Anne Pitoiset and Claudine Wéry, Mystère Dang, (Nouma, Le
Rayon Vert, 2008)
Koniambo massif is located in the Northern Province, in the districts of Voh and Kon, on the West coast and
in the south of Koumac.
Pitoiset and Wry.
Yonanico Grenon with the collaboration of Martin Simard, ‘Un projet mtallurgique dans la province Nord:
Koniambo’. In: Atlas de la Nouvelle-Calédonie, eds. Jean Bonvallot and Jean-Christophe Gay, (Montpellier:
IRD Editions, 2012), 177; Pierre-Yves Le Meur, ‘Conflict and agreement. The politics of nickel in Thio, New
Caledonia’. Presented at the conference ‘Mining and Mining policy in the Pacific: history, challenges and
perspectives’, Nouma, 21-25 November 2011.
Interview with M. Kadar, SLN, 27 February 2012.
Anthony Bebbington, Social Conflict, Economic Development and Extractive Industry: Evidence from South
America. (editor). (London, Routledge, 2012); Glenn Banks, Linking resources and conflict the Melanesian
way’, Pacific Economic Bulletin, 20, No.1 (2005): 185-191; Gavin Bridge, ‘Contested terrain: mining and the
environment’. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 29 (2004): 205-259; Colin Filer et al, ‘The
fragmentation of responsibilities in the Melanesian mining sector’. In Earth Matters: Indigenous Peoples, the
Extractive Industries and Corporate Social Responsibility, eds. C. O’Faircheallaigh and S. Ali (London:
Greenleaf Publishing 2008) pp163-179; Colin Filer and Benedict Young Imbun, A Short History of Mineral
Development Policies in Papua New Guinea, 1972-2002’. In Policy Making and Implementation: Studies from
Papua New Guinea, ed. R.J. May, (Canberra: ANU E Press, 2009): 75-116; Lee Godden, Marcia L. Langton,
Odette Mazel and Michael Tehan, ‘Accommdating Interests in Resource Extraction: Indigenous Peoples, Local
Communities and the Role of Law in Economic and Social Sustainability’, Journal of Energy & Natural
Resources Law (2008): 26:1 ; Marcia L. Langton and Judy Longbottom (eds.), Community Futures, Legal
Architecture Foundations for Indigenous Peoples in the Global Mining Boom (London, Routledge, 2012),
Tony Crook, ‘If you don’t believe our story, at least give us half of the money: Claiming Ownership of the Ok
Tedi Mine, PNG’. Le Journal de la Société des Océeanistes (2007): 221-228 ; Colin Filer et al, ‘The
fragmentation of responsibilities in the Melanesian mining sector’.
Interview with J.P. Tidjine, chief of the customary district of Nenema, July 2012.
Pierre-Yves Le Meur, ‘Locality, Mobility and Governmentality in Colonial/Postcolonial New Caledonia: The
case of the Kouare tribe (â Xârâgwii), Thio (Cöö)’. Oceania 83, 2 (2013): 130146.
In New Caledonia, a research project funded by the National Centre for Technological Research (CNRT)
‘Nickel and its environment’ deals with subcontracting and its social involvement in indigenous communities
(Le Meur, Grochain and Kowasch, 2012).
The majority shareholder is the Northern Province. Their interest in SOFINOR is to promote economic
development in different sectors (mainly mining, aquaculture, tourism and real estate investment).
See Matthias Kowasch, ‘Le dveloppement de l’industrie du nickel’ (2012).
Paul Naoutyine, L’indépendance au présent – identité kanak et destin commun, (Paris, Éditions Syllepse,
2006), 139.
Christian Lund and Thomas Sikor, ‘The Politics of Possession’, 13.
Noel Castree, ‘Socializing nature: theory, practice, and politics’. In Social nature: theory, practice, and
politics. eds. Noel Castree and Bruce Braun (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001): Pp 1-21, quote on p9.
Jesse Ribot and Nancy Peluso, ‘A Theory of Access’, Rural Society 68, no. 2 (2003): 153-181, quote on p159-
Christian Lund and Thomas Sikor, ‘The Politics of Possession’, 5.
Pierre-Yves Le Meur, Locality, Mobility and Governmentality’, 130.
Pierre-Yves Le Meur, ‘Locality, Mobility and Governmentality’.
... New Caledonia is an archipelago in the in the southwest Pacific Ocean and the homelands of the Kanak people. New Caledonia was a French overseas territory until decades of independence struggle resulted in a gradual transfer of power beginning in 1998 (Kowasch et al. 2015). Our study mine, the Koniambo Nickel project, is located in the Northern Province (population of approximately 50,000), which is majority (72 %) Kanak and has historically been a centre of independence politics (Rivoilan 2019). ...
... In 1990 a holding company owned by the Northern Province purchased the mining company SMSP (Horowitz 2004). In a key development several years later, the Front de Libération Nationale Kanak Socialiste (FLNKS) negotiated access to the mineral rich Koniambo Massif for SMSP and its original corporate partner, Falconbridge, creating the conditions of possibility for the development of the Koniambo mine (Kowasch et al. 2015;Le Meur et al. 2013). ...
... Under the 1998 Nouméa Accord, France transferred legislative powers to the territory, including over environmental laws and resource exploitation; created a Customary Senate; promised training and economic development programs; and required a referendum on independence within ten years (Horowitz 2004;Kowasch et al. 2015). The Accord also established provincial authorities that largely mirrored existing ethnic divisions, meaning that the new Northern Province came under Kanak majority control (Kowasch et al. 2015). ...
This paper compares Inuit and Kanak women's participation in nickel mining employment in Canada and New Caledonia through a focused examination of three nickel mines: two in Nunavik, Quebec, Canada and one in the Northern Province of New Caledonia. Since the recent construction of two new nickel refineries, New Caledonia has experienced a dramatic feminization of its mining workforce across traditional mining employment and service-related employment. In Canada, meanwhile, despite targeted efforts by industry and community organizations to facilitate Inuit women's entry into nickel mining, women's participation in mining remains relatively low and stagnant. This paper first presents a comparison of employment data at all three mines to illustrate the dramatic divergences in demographic composition of the workforces. Second, drawing on interviews with key informants and historical context, we explore key factors that explain this divergence in Indigenous women's employment. We argue that Kanak women's access to mining employment is enabled by, one, the central place of mining in Kanak struggles for self-determination and, two, the daily commuting structure at the mine. In Nunavik, by contrast, limited Inuit control over mining development and the fly-in fly-out employment structure limit Inuit women's access to mining jobs. Despite these divergences, however, Indigenous women in both contexts face gendered expectations related to social reproduction that pose logistical and social barriers to their long-term participation in the industry.
... New Caledonia is a settler economy of 271,407 inhabitants (census 2019; ISEE 2020). It remains one of France's few 'settler economies', although there has been some devolution of powers since the 1980s (Kowasch et al. 2015). It has had a relatively troubled history of conflict between francophone settlers and Kanak peoples 4 , since the mid-1800s. ...
... Kanak operated a clan-based patrilocal society with livelihoods based largely on tropical agriculture, some hunting and fishing, and island (and initially, interisland) trade. Control of territory and land has major significance for the clans, whose identity was registered as an itinerary, as a series of places where families passed through and lived (Naepels 1998(Naepels , 2006Kowasch et al. 2015). There were distinctive regional linguistic groupings, and small-scale inter-clan warfare was frequent. ...
... Anglican and Marist Catholic missionaries and priests, American whalers, and British sea cucumber fishermen were on the islands preceding formal annexation of New Caledonia by France in 1853 (Kowasch and Batterbury 2015). There was also a lucrative trade in sandalwood (Santalum austrocaledonicum) from the 1840s and to a lesser extent, copra. ...
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... Land legitimacy follows from these sacred sites. So, identity is always constructed and never given (Kowasch 2012;Kowasch, Batterbury and Neumann 2015). Schein (2009) demonstrates how political struggles over citizenship, race and nation are bound up with landownership and the memorialisation of the past (cited in Mee and Wright 2009:776). ...
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New Caledonia, a French overseas territory in the South Pacific that possesses more than 25% of the world’s nickel reserves, is currently undergoing a process of decolonization, after a period of Civil War in the 1980s. Balanced between demands for independence of the indigenous Kanak population and political affiliation to France, there is a spatial as well as a socio-economic and cultural division of the population. I argue for socially responsible research strategies in a cross-cultural and politically charged context, and outline some of the factors that influenced my own ethnographic work. The researcher’s family background and education affect the structure of relationships and behaviours. Self-presentation and institutional affiliation play an important role in daily fieldwork. Information and data collection as well as publication of research results have to respect intellectual property rights, which are tangible and intangible. An outsider position in a foreign culture can lead to discomfort, which can be tackled by working closely with local researchers and institutions. Research can be useful in this situation, if the results are made available to local people, political actors, and business.
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In this essay, the authors respond to several of the papers included in this special issue. First reflecting on the relation between waters, ‘First law’,1 and settler law, the authors then draw connections between some of the contributions to the issue. Water, the authors contend, is a productive site for thinking through the organs and processes of settler law, though such attention, they argue, also reveals how the ‘constitutional’ question of waters is occluded by the presence and dominance of settler law. The final section turns to Aotearoa/New Zealand as a negative example of this situation, one in which the constituting force of waters is nullified by the incorporation of indigenous politics within the processes and institutions of the settler legal order.
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New Caledonia is characterized by cultural diversity, and human occupation of the territory is divided. A Melanesian, Kanak agrarian society (about 40% of the total population), and a largely urban society, of European and other origins (about 60%), co-inhabit a territory of approximately 19,000 km2. The duality of occupation is also shown in the juxtaposition of common and customary land laws. These are the result of a painful history of land dispossession during colonial times and restitution of some land to the Kanak from 1970. Kanak identity is built on the clan's history inscribed in a natural milieu where the environment, and land, has customary value, more than use value. New Caledonia has considerable mineral resources, especially nickel. Mining often creates conflict, as it raises the use value of land. Therefore, the establishment of a mine, refinery or industrial zone can often initiate assertions of clan ownership and land claims. Land rights are constantly updated, and can be renegotiated. The remodeling of the territory under mining pressures and new land allocations is a means for upward social mobility and prestige in Kanak society. These issues are demonstrated for the Federation "Djelawe" and two tribes (Oundjo and Baco) near the site of the future nickel ore processing plant and port (the Koniambo project) in the north of Grande Terre built by the local SMSP company and the Swiss Xstrata group. A discourse of environmental protection was used to restrain industrial activity but also to assert rights to clan land. But development pressures have also been used to achieve political control over land, and thus to increase clan recognition, and possible royalty payments. Thus, land claims are part of a game of prestige and power between clans and families. Socio-economic access to land, it emerges, is clearly more important in these cases than the protection of its bio-physical assets. Key words: New Caledonia, Kanak, land conflicts, nickel mining, regional development. Résumé: La Nouvelle-Calédonie se caractérise par une grande diversité culturelle, mais également par une dualité des espaces de vie. Une société agraire multiséculaire, d'origine kanak (environ 40% de la population totale), et une société majoritairement urbaine, d'origine européenne, mais largement métissée (environ 60% de la population totale), co-habitent sur un territoire d'environ 19,000 km2 qui possèdent des ressources minérales considérables, surtout en nickel. La dualité des espaces de vie se montre également dans la juxtaposition de terres soumises au droit commun et de terres soumises au droit coutumier. Ces dernières sont le fruit d'une histoire douloureuse de spoliations foncières lors de l'époque coloniale et de rétrocessions à partir des terres 1970. La perception territoriale de la population kanak s'oriente vers un modèle où la valeur patrimoniale prime sur la valeur d'usage, car l'identité kanak se construit sur l'histoire du groupe inscrit dans un environnement où tous les objets environnementaux possèdent une certaine valeur. La co-existence des lieux à forte valeur patrimoniale, les lieux sacrés, et une activité minière ou économique au sens large peut entraîner une transformation de la valeur et suscite souvent des conflits, car une légitimité foncière signifie un plus de prestige. De ce fait, la mise en place d'un projet économique – c'est-à-dire une mine, une usine métallurgique ou une zone industrielle – réveille souvent des revendications foncières. Ces revendications démontrent que les légitimités foncières sont en perpétuelle réactualisation et peuvent être renégociées. Le remodelage du territoire représente un moyen pour une ascension sociale au sein de la société kanak. Ces enjeux fonciers sont démontrés à l'exemple de la fédération « Djelawe » et de deux tribus (Oundjo et Baco) en proximité du site industriel de la future « usine du Nord », construite par un consortium de la SMSP locale et du groupe suisse Xstrata (projet Koniambo). Depuis un certain temps, la protection de l'environnement devient une préoccupation de plus en plus importante des acteurs locaux. Ce discours environnementaliste est cependant souvent instrumentalisé pour atteindre des objectifs « politico-fonciers »: une reconnaissance foncière et des royalties. Ainsi, les revendications foncières s'inscrivent dans un jeu de prestige et de pouvoir entre clans et familles. L'aspect socio-économique de l'environnement semble être clairement plus important que l'aspect bio-physique. Mots clés: Nouvelle-Calédonie, Kanak, les conflits fonciers, l'exploitation minière du nickel, du développement régional.
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En Nouvelle-Calédonie, deux nouvelles usines de traitement de nickel sont actuellement construites, « l'usine du Nord » (projet Koniambo) dans la province Nord et le projet Goro Nickel dans la province Sud. Grâce à elles, le pays va tripler sa production de nickel-métal. Les autochtones, les Kanak (40 % de la population), se trouvent en pleine mutation. D'un côté, ils souhaitent tirer des bénéfices et participer à l'installation des projets industriels. De l'autre existe un profond désir de maintenir les valeurs traditionnelles. L'ancrage dans l'espace et la construction d'identité se traduisent dans des lieux toponymiques, des endroits où le clan est passé durant son histoire. L'identité ressemble à une sorte d'itinéraire. Dans la tribu de Netchaot, la préservation de savoirs traditionnels prend place dans un grand nombre de lieux toponymiques cartographiés et traduits du paicï en français. Cependant, plusieurs clans peuvent revendiquer le même endroit, car différentes légitimités foncières se superposent. Les revendications resurgissent dès que la terre en question doit être mise en valeur avec l'installation d'un équipement à but lucratif. L'histoire de la presqu'île de Pinjen où la SMSP avait au début envisagé de construire son « usine du Nord » est une sorte de « carrefour » où plusieurs clans ont vécu un moment de leur histoire. Les différentes légitimités ont donné lieu à un conflit foncier et coutumier. Le conflit démontre que la revendication est soumise à une perpétuelle négociation. Ainsi, les enjeux autour des lieux toponymiques s'inscrivent dans un champ de recherche interdisciplinaire, qui intéressent la géographie, l'anthropologie, la linguistique et l'histoire. Abstract : In New Caledonia two new nickel processing plants are currently under construction, the " factory of the North " (the Koniambo project) in the Northern Province and the Goro Nickel project in the Southern Province. They will enable the country to triple its production of processed nickel ore. The indigenous Kanak people, which makes up at least 40 % of the total population of the islands, is experiencing social change as a result of this large expansion in economic possibilities. On the one hand, some Kanak wish to reap the benefits of mining and to participate in economic growth.
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Over two decades of evidence now exist linking the abundance of natural resources with poor economic performance. Economists have tested the relationship in various ways and for various time periods, and, although they are not unanimous, they mostly show that resources are bad for the development prospects of a country. More recently, in work originating from the World Bank, a link has also been made between a country's dependence on natural resources and the likelihood of civil conflict. This is clearly an argument that resonates with recent events in the region and represents a worrying trend for Melanesia, where the countries exhibit a continuing high level of dependence on natural resources for economic growth and development. Natural resources and conflict The evidence of links between natural resources and conflict has its origins in economic studies in the 1980s that identified a statistically robust relationship between a dependence on natural resources and slower than average economic growth (Ross 1999; Auty 2001; Sachs and Warner 2001). This 'resource curse' thesis (Auty 1993) has generated debate between economists and others about the extent of the problem, the details of how resource dependence is measured, and whether a reliance on hard-rock minerals is different from a reliance on oil, or timber or agriculture. What is clear is that there is strong evidence that a high reliance on natural resources can place constraints on the development of an economy. From the many empirical and statistically sophisticated examples the same pattern recurs: natural resources are not the blessing they would appear to be for a country. More recent work by Paul Collier and others has gone further and linked a high dependence on natural resources, and particularly minerals and oil, to a heightened risk of civil conflict within a country. Collier (2000), working with a sample of 47 countries that had experienced civil conflicts in the period 1965–99, carried out a statistical analysis of a wide range of characteristics of these countries, including ethnic and religious factionalism, the nature of the economy, and the distribution of the population across the country. He argues that the three most powerful risk factors for the
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The colonial history of New Caledonia has been one of dispossession, alienation, and racial segregation. Indigenous people did not experience a life of all-embracing confinement and immobility. Instead, Kanak localities were historically shaped by the interplay of colonial projects, ideas, tensions, power relations, practices, representations, values, norms, and emotions. Based on the example of Thio, located on the south-east coast of New Caledonia, this article explores these transformations, focusing on processes of localization and mobility in the colonial and postcolonial eras. The first section focuses on the encounter with and the interplay between different organisations in Thio: the missionary, mining, pastoral, and administrative frontiers. The second section explores the multilayered history of the landscape and settlement patterns in Xârâgwii/Kouare (a tribe located in the mountainous part of Thio), and the third section analyses the interplay of locality and mobility since World War II. The final section examines the ‘invention’ of the tribe as part of colonial governmental projects. The article concludes with a brief discussion of the meaning of this evolving dialectic in the current context of decolonization.
This thesis takes an actor-oriented approach to a micropolitical analysis of the engagements of Kanak villagers in the Voh-Koné area, New Caledonia, with the Koniambo Project, a proposed joint nickel mining venture involving a multinational and a local mining company. In the introductory chapter, I outline my theoretical framework, which expands political ecology by applying insights from micropolitical theory to a focus on intracommunity disputes surrounding natural resource exploitation projects. I argue that such a close examination is necessary if we are to understand local tensions and factions and their multiple influences on the outcomes of development projects. ¶ The Koniambo Project promises to redress some of the economic imbalances prevalent in the archipelago by benefiting the largely Kanak, and historically underprivileged, Northern Province. Thus, this mining project has great politico-economic significance, both for pro-independence leaders as well as for those who wish to maintain New Caledonia as a part of France. However, while people expected benefits for the Kanak people as a whole, the project sparked intracommunity conflicts at the local level. I argue that villagers’ claims to the right to authorize mining activities as well as their desires to receive recognition from the mining company reflected their eagerness to prove a high social position. Meanwhile, in line with the traditionally competitive political climate within Kanak communities, there were many debates about who exactly the ‘landowners’ were. ...
Indigenous peoples articulate and defend their cultures and identities in the ‘niches’ of settler colonial structures. In this way, the structures of the settler state shape – even as they constrain – indigeneity and resistance. In New Caledonia, a settler colony of France, the Republican state configures cultural difference, citizenship and sovereignty in ways that do not map well onto Latin American or Anglo-Saxon settler contexts. This article examines how Kanak youth have used a structure of French governance, the association loi de 1901, to subvert the cultural and political hegemony of French settler society. Though associations are intended to foster normative modes of civic engagement and a unified Republican public sphere, Kanak engagement with associations has led to the emergence of an indigenous counter-public sphere that deeply unsettles settler society in New Caledonia. Drawing on ethnographic examples, this article shows how associations have been transformed into assemblages – cobbled together from indigenous and French cultural forms – through which to assert alternative, Kanak modes of citizenship and make claims on the future of New Caledonia. The conclusion of the article discusses what the use of associations by Kanak youth reveals about articulations of indigeneity across different settler state contexts.