Report – By Daniel Drageset
The main participant in Jim Marbrook’s upcoming Cap Bocage documentary says he thinks the film will help in creating awareness around environmental challenges in New Caledonia.
Florent Eurisouké was the president of the environmental group Mee Rhaari, which protested against nickel mining on the east coast of New Caledonia’s main island Grande Terre.
“It’s important for people to understand that to fight on environmental issues like New Caledonia is very, very difficult.
“There is no structure of environmental values,” Eurisouké told Pacific Scoop in an exclusive interview.
Eurisouké came to Auckland last week together with his uncle Jean “Jojo” Neporo, who is an elder and chief of the Neporo clan of the Warai District, located close to the Cap Bocage mine.
In 2008, a landslide spilled considerable amounts of nickel, cobalt and enrichened ore onto the coral reef adjacent to Cap Bocage.
The documentary Cap Bocage, which is due for release mid-2014, revolves around the tensions between the mining company and local protestors in the wake of the landslide.
Eurisouké and Marbrook met incidentally when Marbrook was touring New Caledonia in 2007.
Confronted with the chance to feature in a documentary film about New Caledonia’s environmental issues, Eurisouké did not hesitate to agree to participate.
“Immediately, I understood that this was a good opportunity, because it is important for people from small islands to communicate with the outside world and tell our stories,” Eurisouké said in French.
Steve Woodward, the soundman of the Cap Bocage documentary, helped out as a translator during the interview.
Eurisouké said the documentary was a way for the “Kanak struggle to be known”.
The Kanaks are the indigenous Melanesian inhabitants of New Caledonia, and make up just over 40 per cent of the population – roughly 100,000 of the 250,000 people living there.
Europeans, mainly French citizens, make up 29 per cent of the population – a total of 71,000 people.
The filmmaker role
The Kanak environmentalist said it was extremely important to have filmmakers like Jim Marbrook to interpret and communicate the issues of New Caledonia.
“I can’t draw, I can’t write, I can’t sing,” Eurisouké said, explaining that he could not have hoped to reach out to a wide audience if it had not been for Marbrook’s documentary.
In 2007, the Pacific Media Centre awarded Marbrook a $10,000 dollar grant to get his documentary underway. Since then, he has also received a considerable grant from Creative New Zealand.
During Eurisouké’s visit to Auckland, Marbrook showed him and his uncle a rough cut of the film, in which the environmentalist got to see some of his old friends again.
“When I saw the film, I saw a lot of the militants that have passed away.
“To see them again was quite emotional. People like Sami, who had a very passionate and strong voice within environmental issues, is not here anymore.
“We have torches that we have to carry for these people,” Eurisouké said.
The environmental fight
Florent Eurisouké’s campaigning against mining companies has arguably been closely linked to the French rule over New Caledonia.
The Ballande family, originally from Bordeaux, own the Cap Bocage mine. They were accused of being responsible for the landslide in 2008 resulting in grave environmental damages.
According to Eurisouké, the damages caused by mining in New Caledonia can be compared to the nuclear bombs that France tested in French Polynesia, which did not end before 1996.
“When you go into a restaurant to eat, a group of French people are making noise. The English are very quiet. When you say shut up to the French, they stop. Unless you say that they will just continue making noise,” Eurisouké said with clear references to the political situation in New Caledonia.
“We have a proverb in French that I’m not sure you can translate well into English: ‘When you throw a rock in a pond the toads stop croaking’.
“The film is like a stone that will make ripples in the water,” Eurisouké said.
About France’s rule of New Caledonia, the environmental campaigner said Kanaks “are forced to be French,” and that they were “not French by choice”.
New Caledonia plans to hold a referendum on independence in the period 2014-2018.
Since the Nouméa Accord was signed in 1998, more power has been transferred from France to New Caledonia – or Kanaky as the Kanaks call the country.
The elections in Fiji next year will not be the only interesting Pacific election to follow, as the Congressional election in New Caledonia will be very important in deciding New Caledonia’s short-term future.
If three-fifths – 33 of the 54 representatives – support independence, Congress can decide to proceed with a referendum on full independence.
Fearing an unfair election, the pro-independence alliance of political parties in New Caledonia, the Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS), recently called on the UN to send observers to the election, Radio New Zealand International reported.
The FLNKS questioned 3000 voters on the list, who it said were not born in New Caledonia.
The alliance also claimed 1900 Kanak voters had been excluded from the election.
Eurisouké said the Kanaks were an independent people and thus should have their own nation.
Pacific Scoop asked him his view on independence and whether it was viable for New Caledonia to become a fully sovereign country.
“I want to be very clear on my answer. I’m going to send the question back to you,” Eurisouké said firmly.
“Have you ever seen an independent people disappear from the surface of the world? Did the independence of New Zealand make that the Maori have not disappeared?
“We’re changing the status quo. Do you not think that New Zealanders will be strong enough if the dairy industry disappeared suddenly? It is the people that matter,” Eurisouké concluded.
Jean “Jojo” Neporo said he was a strong supporter of full independence.
“I’ve been an independence fighter since the very early days of the struggle. I’m not afraid of it. I believe it’s viable. We can be successful in other ways even if nickel wasn’t there,” Neporo said.
“Next time I go through the customs at an airport, I’d love to write New Caledonia,” Eurisouké said.
“Do you think that will happen in the next few years?
“Yes, if God’s willing.”
Daniel Drageset is the Pacific Scoop internship editor.