French ‘betrayal’ triggered Kanak youth rebellion in Nouméa, says activist

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A Kanak pro-independence barricade near Nouméa during the current unrest
A Kanak pro-independence barricade near Nouméa during the current unrest. Image: Radio Waatea

By Adam Gifford of Waatea News

A New Zealand Kanak woman, Jessie Ounei, says young people in New Caledonia feel a sense of anger and betrayal at the way France is attempting to “snuff out” any prospect of independence for its Pacific territory.

France invaded New Caledonia in 1853 and pushed the Kanak people into reservations, denying them civil and political rights for a century.

In parallel with Nga Tamatoa in Aotearoa, a resistance movement sprang up in the 1960s and 1970s driven by young people, including Jessie Ounei’s late mother Susanna Ounei, and the territory has been on the United Nations decolonisation list since 1986.

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Riots broke out last week after the French National Assembly moved to give voting rights to settlers with 10 years residence, which would overwhelm the indigenous vote.

Jessie Ounei told Radio Waatea host Shane Te Pou the independence movement had tried to resist the move peacefully, but once the National Assembly vote happened young people took action.

“It’s a total betrayal. Young people have grown up with a sense of identity and we understand out worth and that’s largely because of the work that was done in the 1960s, 1970s and and 1980s to reclaim our identity so we’re not unaware of our worth or our identity, or how hard done we are being so we were hopeful this was going to be it,” she said.

France ‘pulled the rug’
“But France has totally pulled the rug out.”

Ounei said she had been hearing unconfirmed reports of rightwing settler militias taking vigilante action against the Kanak population.

Asia Pacific Report says French officials have cited a death toll of at least six so far — including three Kanaks, one a 17-year-old girl, and two police officers, and 214 people have been arrested in the state of emergency.

French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Nouméa today in an attempt to create a dialogue to resolve the tensions.

An interview with Jessie Ounei and David Small. Republished from Waatea News, Auckland’s Māori radio broadcaster.

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