Kanaky-New Caledonia: A Referendum Against French Settler Colonialism

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Text translated from French by Maxwell Donnewald. Photo above by Ingrid Chanene for the Union Syndicale des Travailleurs Kanak et des Exploités (USTKE).

On November 4, 2018, a referendum of great importance will take place in Kanaky-New Caledonia (KNC). It will begin a process of decolonization anticipated by the Matignon Agreements signed on June 26, 1988. The referendum focuses on KNC’s access to total sovereignty — a total sovereignty to decide on either total independence or a policy of partnership with other states.

The Matignon Agreements were a product of what are officially known as “Les Événements” (“The Events”) between 1984 and 1988; four years of armed struggle by the indigenous Kanak people against the French state for the recognition of their rights, a civil war in fact — though this struggle has been ongoing since the first day of the settlement colony in 1853.

If the struggle is essentially between the Kanak and the French State, the referendum raises the issue of a “common destiny” that equally concerns all the other communities of the island, which are neither European nor Kanak. The majority of the people who constitute these other communities are from Oceania and Asia, though some are also the descendants of Algerian political prisoners deported to the island between 1864 and 1921. Though the Europeans were brought in by a political logic of colonial settlement, the origins of these other communities are quite different. Some have lived on the island for three generations, sharing a common Oceanian value system with the Kanaks. These communities will constitute a crucial electoral group in the November referendum. Their vote could potentially decide the result.