In the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia, conflict and difference between Indigenous Kanak people and European settlers has existed at least since the 1850s. We interrogate the geopolitical ecology of these islands, which is deeply wedded to natural resource extraction, is instrumentalized in political debate, power struggles, conflict, and the mining sector. Territoriality, including changes to political borders and access to land, has promoted the interests of the key actors in shaping the future of the islands. Violence in the 1980s was followed by the Matignon Accords (1988) and three provinces were established (North, South, Loyalty Islands). The South Province is governed by a party loyal to France, and the others are in the hands of the Indigenous Kanak independence movement seeking full decolonization and independence. The strengthened regional autonomy that emerged from the creation of provinces has permitted the Kanak-dominated ones to control certain political competencies as well as to guide economic development much more strongly than in other settler states, notably through a large nickel mining project in the North Province. Provincialization has not diminished ethnic divisions as French interests hoped, as signaled by voting in the close-run but unsuccessful 2018 referendum on independence from France. We explore the ironies of these efforts at territorial re-ordering, which are layered on significant spatial and racial disparities. Re-bordering has enabled resurgence of Kanak power in ways unanticipated by the architects of the Accords, but without a guarantee of eventual success.
Keywords: Kanak identity, decolonization, politics of mining, geopolitical ecology, New Caledonia
How to Cite:
Batterbury, S. P. & Kowasch, M. & Bouard, S., (2020) “The geopolitical ecology of New Caledonia: territorial re-ordering, mining, and Indigenous economic development”, Journal of Political Ecology 27(1), 594-611. doi: https://doi.org/10.2458/v27i1.23812