Indigenous peoples in New Caledonia

Kanaky-New Caledonia is home to the Melanesian Kanak people. It has been under French rule since 1853. Out of a total population of 320,000, the Kanak number approximately 100,000. Other ethnic groups have settled in New Caledonia in the last 150 years and include the French (37%) and Polynesians (11.8%) from the other French possessions in the Pacific.

While traditionally agriculturalists, the Kanak lost most of their land to the French settlers and lived until the 1960s as a marginalized, discriminated group of people. In the 70s and 80s a strong independence movement swept across the country ending with the Accords de Matignon (1988) and the Accord de Nouméa (1998). The latter agreement sat out a 15-year transition to independence to be decided by a referendum in 2014.

Today, the Kanak participate in the government and enjoy in principle the same rights as the rest of the population. The Customary Senate, which consists of tribal leaders, is recognized and has an advisory role. However, their economic and social situation remains precarious and a constant influx of immigrants – especially from France - exacerbates the demographic as well as the electoral imbalance.

For the Kanak people, the main events of 2006 related primarily to mining on the one hand, and land on the other. In mineral exploitation and the mining industry, as in other areas, the rights of indigenous peoples are still flouted by the dominant society, either through ignorance of these rights or through a desire to maintain the colonial heritage.

Download the 2007 yearbook article on indigenous peoples in New Caledonia to read more about major developments and events during 2006