An indigenous Kanak youth coordinator is calling on Aotearoa New Zealand – particularly Māori – to help give voice to the plight of the indigenous people amid the recent unrest in Kanaky-New Caledonia.

“We need their help, we need the help from [those] in New Zealand to support a Kanak voice, because all the clan in New Zealand and all the clan in New Caledonia – we are related by our ancestors, we are the same people, because the moana is here … that’s why we need their support and help,” Viro Xulue, who works with Kanak non-governmental organisations to provide social assistance, said.

He wants Māori to “bring our voice to the world” in response to French authorities blocking social media sites in the South Pacific archipelago.

“Here, [the] French government censured our free expression – they censured TikTok, Facebook – that’s why it’s really hard for us to share the truth, the reality and what’s happened here in New Caledonia and what’s happened to the indigenous people.”

In May, decades of tensions between indigenous Kanak seeking independence and descendants of colonisers who want to remain part of France came to a head.

Violence broke out in the archipelago over electoral roll changes that seek to allow residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to cast ballots in provincial elections – a change that opponents of the legislature say will marginalise the Kanak people and undermine the move for independence that has been steadily rising.

It follows the result of a controversial third referendum that was held during the Covid outbreak. France refused to postpone the referendum despite pleas from Kanak over the impact of the pandemic on the indigenous population.

The Kanak population is 41% in comparison to the European population at 29%. The remaining inhabitants come from countries in and around the Pacific.

The Kanak people boycotted the referendum that saw 96% vote against independence.

On May 16, a state of emergency was declared for two weeks after clashes between opposing sides turned fatal. Associated Press reports the death toll has risen to eight after a man shot by police died of his wounds on Friday, local time.

“In New Caledonia there is a lot of anger, hatred and above all a great feeling of injustice because there is currently a recolonisation of Kanaky New Caledonia by the [settling] of the French army and more than a thousand police force,” Xulue said.

He is urging New Zealand to support Kanaky-New Caledonia with humanitarian aid and a bid to the UN for emergency assistance because he fears violence from the French army and police force against the Kanak people.

“Kanak people need their voice heard by the world, that’s why New Zealand can work with our representative here in New Caledonia to tell the truth to people. It’s really important.”

Xulue plans to travel to New Zealand later this year for a conference and to meet with Māori groups.

Sovereignty in the Pacific 'a shared goal'

Waikato-Tainui spokesperson Rahui Papa said the question of sovereignty is a shared goal for many peoples of the Pacific, including Māori, as shown in Aotearoa with recent events of hui ā motu.

“Kua kitea ake te pihipihi ake o te kotahitanga, ka mutu, ko te huarahi o te mana motuhake, ā, ka mutu koia tēnei tētahi kaupapa e kōrerotia nuitia ana i roto i ngā moutere o Te Moana nui a Kiwa, kia wetewete i ngā here ki Ūropi, kia noho mana motuhake te tangata o te whenua ki ō rātou whenua (We’ve seen the emergence of kotahitanga and the road to independence is a topic that’s widely discussed across the islands in the Pacific – cutting ties to Europe so that indigenous people may retain sovereignty over their own lands).”

When asked if Waikato-Tainui would be willing to meet with Xulue, Papa said “kāore ōku raruraru (I don’t see an issue with that)”.

“Ko te tohe tonu o te mana motuhake ehara kē i te mea he tapu ki te Māori ko ia anake, engari e tuariari katoa atu ana ki runga ki ngā moutere, me ngā iwi o Te Moana nui a Kiwa whānui (The question of sovereignty isn’t exclusive to Māori, it’s a common debate across islands and peoples of the Pacific).

“Me te mea nei he whakapapa kei reira, he tātai whakaheke e tūhonohono mai ana rātou ki a tātou, tātou ki a rātou (Furthermore, we are bound by ancestry and lineage that connects us to them and them to us).”

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