Rob Campbell: Unrest in New Caledonia – as seen through moana or colonialist eyes?

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A message to the news media among the charred Nouméa protest debris
A message to the news media among the charred Nouméa protest debris . . . "Stop false information + media in France. Justice for Kanaky." Image: @LWaloungie

COMMENTARY: By Rob Campbell

Is it just me or is it not more than a little odd that coverage of current events in New Caledonia/Kanaky is dominated by the inconvenience of tourists and rescue flights out of the Pacific paradise.

That the events are described as “disruption” or “riots” without any real reference to the cause of the actions causing inconvenience. The reason is the armed enforcement of “order” is flown into this Oceanic place from Europe.

I guess when you live in a place called “New Zealand” in preference to “Aotearoa” you see these things through fellow colonialist eyes. Especially if you are part of the dominant colonial class.

How different it looks if you are part of an indigenous people in Oceania — part of that “Indigenous Ocean” as Damon Salesa’s recent award-winning book describes it. The Kanaks are the indigenous Melanesian inhabitants of New Caledonia.

The indigenous movement in Kanaky is engaged in a fight against the political structures imposed on them by France.

Obviously there are those indigenous people who benefit from colonial rule, and those who feel powerless to change it. But increasingly there are those who choose to resist.

Are they disrupters or are they resisting the massive disruption which France has imposed on them?

People who have a lot of resources or power or freedom to express their culture and belonging tend not to “riot”. They don’t need to.

Not simply holiday destinations
The countries of Oceania are not simply holiday destinations, they are not just sources of people or resource exploitation until the natural resources or labour they have are exhausted or no longer needed.

They are not “empty” places to trial bombs. They are not “strategic” assets in a global military chess game.

Each place, and the ocean of which they are part have their own integrity, authenticity, and rights, tangata, whenua and moana. That is only hard to understand if you insist on retaining as your only lens that of the telescope of a 17th or 18th century European sea captain.

The natural alliance and concern we have from these islands, is hardly with the colonial power of France, notwithstanding the apparent keenness of successive recent governments to cuddle up to Nato.

A clue — we are not part of the “North Atlantic”.

We have our own colonial history, far from pristine or admirable in many respects. But we are at the same time fortunate to have a framework in Te Tiriti which provides a base for working together from that history towards a better future.

Those who would debunk that framework or seek to amend it to more clearly favour the colonial classes might think about where that option leads.

And when we see or are inconvenienced by independence or other indigenous rights activism in Oceania we might do well to neither sit on the fence nor join the side which likes to pretend such places are rightfully controlled by France (or the United States, or Australia or New Zealand).

Rob Campbell is chancellor of Auckland University of Technology (AUT), chair of Ara Ake, chair of NZ Rural Land and former chair of Te Whatu Ora. This article was first published by The New Zealand Herald and is republished with the author’s permission.

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