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Posts Tagged ‘New Caledonia’

Pacific Youth Hold Fast: We can’t ignore colonisation

Friday, August 11th, 2006

Omar Hamed

kanaky t-shirtNgā iwi e, Ngā iwi e
O people, O people
Kia Kotahi ra, Te Moana-nui-a-kiwa
Join together as one the Pacific Ocean.
Ngā iwi e, Ngā iwi e
O people, o people
Kia Kotahi ra, Te Moana-nui-a-kiwa
Join together as one, the Pacific Ocean

Kia mau ra, kia mau ra
Hold fast, hold fast
Ki te mana motuhake me te aroha.
To self-determination and to love.
Kia mau ra, kia mau ra
Hold fast, hold fast
Ki te mana motuhake me te aroha.
To self-determination and to love.

Ngā iwi e. The song of the Pacific. Originally a Kanaky song from New Caledonia, it was translated into Maori in the 1970s and entered New Zealand by way of Greenpeace, who sung it on board the Rainbow Warrior while protesting French nuclear testing at Muroroa in French Polynesia. It is as Pacific as the wide blue ocean in which we all live.

new caledonian sign at PYFOn the last night of the inaugural Pacific Youth Festival held in Tahiti between 17 and 22 July, it was revived as ninety New Caledonians cheered the end of the festival and sung for a new day in the fight for self-determination in the Pacific. They sang for freedom, their banner bearing the words “Delegation of New Caledonia” (a reminder to the festival of their refusal to march under the French flag). The song, echoing in the outdoor stadium as the sun went down over the harbour of Pape’ete, and the warm Pacific wind stirred the Kanaky flags they carried in their hands and wore around their necks.

I was lucky enough to be there in the stadium with them. Part of the 17-person delegation from Aotearoa who had travelled across the ocean to be part of the festival, I had joined with the more than 1000 youth from across the Pacific to discuss the important issues of the region. Sustainable Development. Globalisation. Active citizenship. Peace. Health. Education. Equality. Cultural diversity. Good governance. An array of problems and challenges was presented to us in six days of workshops and conferences designed to educate, empower and engage Pacific youth.

1400 Pacific youth gathered together to share, experience and learn. There were anti-corruption activists from Papua New Guinea, democracy advocates from the Solomon Islands, human rights workers from New Caledonia, sustainable farmers from Tonga, HIV/AIDS educators from the Kiribati Islands, indigenous intellectual property lawyers from Australia, women’s group organisers from Fiji, sports coaches from Vanuatu, community artists from the Norfolk islands and the list goes on. Too many to meet in a week, let alone to list here.

By the time I left Tahiti, the festival had become a backdrop to something much more serious. Behind the dancers on the cultural stage and the palm trees and the workshops and conferences was being played out an event that may well shape the future of French Polynesia’s future. Looking back on it now it seems bizarre, how Charmaine Clark, (Ngati Kahungunu), a researcher from the Tairawhiti Polytechnic in Gisborne and I got caught up in the middle of the struggle for self-determination in Tahiti.
new caledonia sign with flags
It began on Monday morning at the opening ceremony when Oscar Temaru, leader of Tahiti’s biggest independence political party and French Polynesia’s coalition government, asked the festival “to consider the issue of independence and more specifically ‘the freedom of the Maohi [Tahitian] people’”. He also said to the Festival in English, “Do you know that in our local Assembly it is prohibited to speak our language, the language of our land? Here [at the festival] we will speak our mother tongue. This is only one example of the colonial system that still exists in our land. We want to get rid of colonialism, racism and all these wrongs that exist everywhere in the world.” At that point, the French High Commissioner Office’s secretary-general walked out of the festival. The first shot of a new battle in an old war had been fired.

To explain; French Polynesia is an “overseas country” of France. It exists as a sort of autonomous colony, caught in the limbo of a people who want decolonisation and France which is desperate to hold onto its old colonial outposts in the Pacific. France still controls the immigration, foreign affairs and funds much of the social services in French Polynesia, and many in French Polynesia fear that the economy would collapse without French support. However, there is a tension between those who feel that it’s time for the nation to become independent and those who want the islands to remain connected with France. Oscar Temaru is the fiery independence leader who, when asked by a reporter “Most people call this place French Polynesia. What do you call it?” replied, “This is French-occupied Polynesia. That is the truth. This country has been occupied.” He has been involved in the struggle for self-determination for a long time and is an old friend of Jean-Marie Tjibaou, a Kanaky independence fighter assasinated in 1988 by the French and whose son, Pascal, was also attending the festival.
new caledonians on bus
Then, on Monday afternoon, I went with Charmaine, the Aotearoa Junior Delegate’, to watch her and the other Pacific Junior Delegates’ begin drafting the Pacific Youth Charter. It was a shambles. The French Polynesian Junior Delegate’ had appointed himself the chair of the drafting committee and next to him was the delegate from France. Yes, you read correctly: France was part of the festival. Three or four young people from a Paris youth NGO had come to the festival to represent the multimillion-dollar stake that France had in the festival, but it seemed to me, in the Tahitian cultural centre, watching the French delegate dominate proceedings that something was truly wrong for them to be able to put themselves on the drafting committee for the PACIFIC Youth charter.

On Wednesday the plot thickened, when Oscar Temaru invited the delegates for cocktails at parliament. The French and French Polynesian delegates (by the way the French Polynesian delegate seemed to have colonial outposts in his head) strongly argued that the delegates not go to the cocktails because it would cut into the drafting time for the charter. After a vote, which was eleven votes to ten in favour of not going (the deciding vote being the French), Charmaine and five other delegates walked out of the drafting committee, stating that it was rude to ignore an invitation by the President when they had not ignored a invitation the previous night by the French High Commissioner. At the party Charmaine invited Temaru to a forum that she and I had hastily organised the day before and scheduled for Saturday morning. It was to be a forum on “Decolonisation with Justice”, the very topic that Temaru had wanted discussed at the Forum. Although Temaru was to be outside the country, he promised to send his representative.

On Thursday it was voted that the French delegate could not have voting powers in the committee, causing him to walk out stating that it was “disrespectful” for Pacific youth to refuse the old colonial nations a say in their, (our) future. The youth of the Pacific had struck a blow against the empire it seemed. omar and char's decolonisation discussionOn Saturday morning Charmaine and I prepared the hall for the around one hundred youth and interested observers, including two members of the French Polynesian Assembly, who came to discuss colonisation and decolonisation. It turned into a very successful forum and we were able to put colonisation back on the agenda of the festival. Samoans came to talk about their dark past at the hands of colonial New Zealand; Kanaky, Maohi, Cook Islanders, Palauans came to discuss their islands’ experiences; Australians came to vent their frustration that there was only one aboriginal in their delegation, Papua New Guineans remembered their brothers and sisters in West Papua, who the government had warned them not to talk about at the Youth Festival. The pain of the Pacific peoples flowed through the room, the hurt, frustration and anger at last beginning to be discussed in an open way instead of being swept under the rug.

That night Charmaine and I met with the deputy of Temaru’s political party, Jean-Michel Carlson, and his wife to talk about the forum and the way the festival was unfolding. Jean-Michel informed us that the festival was part of a pro-French agenda initiated when Temaru was temporarily out of office after the more pro-French opposition party contested elections. No wonder France was allowed to take part in drafting the charter and why indigenous issues and colonisation were avoided. The whole festival had been initiated as a way of legitimising the French presence in the Pacific.
some of NZ delegation
Regardless of this, the Pacific Youth Festival was an important step forward for addressing issues in the Pacific region and facilitating dialogue between Polynesian, Micronesian, Melanesian and colonial settler cultures. However, I would definitely be critical of aspects of the festival such as the large Pacific Plan delegation, which held workshops on its development program (a plan that most Pacific NGOs say, “ignores the real needs of the region.”see link) Workshops on indigenous cultural protection, disabled peoples rights, gender equality, over fishing and poverty highlighted the inspiring work being undertaken by Pacific youth. Being with Maohi and learning about life in French Polynesia was a real experience. For instance, learning about the new golf course that was being created against local people’s wishes on the island of Mo’orea seemed to be an analogy of the whole Pacific situation with tourism: white people monopolising land and resources so they could indulge in recreation, while being served by a new underclass of workers forced to work in the tourism industry because all other industry is underdeveloped.
omar and friends
By the time I got on the plane home to New Zealand I was feeling much more like a citizen of the Pacific Ocean than ever before. The festival had made me realise how dependant Pacific peoples are on activists and campaigners in the “big brother” nations of Aotearoa and Australia to protest and lobby for increased foreign aid, fair trade rules, action on climate change and protection from the nuclear arms and colonial armies of the world’s superpowers. Whether it’s colonisation in West Papua, nuclear testing in Muroroa, unfair trade rules at the World Trade Organisation or greenhouse gases from the industrial nations, Pacific issues are Aotearoa’s issues and that to ignore our brothers and sisters in the Pacific is to deny the true fact of human existence: the fact that ultimately we’re all in this one together.

LEARN MORE

Get clued up on West Papua!
Check out these excellent websites on the Pacifics hidden conflict:
AUT journalists are investigating the conflict.
Peace Movement Aotearoa’s Resource Page
Indonesian Human Rights Campaign
Free West Papua!
Information on Papua

Get clued up on the Pacific!
Read the Oceania Indymedia Site
Check out the Pacific Concerns Resource Centre
Check out Dev-Zone’s Resource pages on the Pacific

TAKE ACTION:

  • Challenge Stereotypes about Pacific Islanders!
  • Don’t let people make racist comments about Pacific Islanders (or anyone!) challenge the way people perceive each other!

Photos by Elise Broadbent, Hana Solomon and Lyndon Burford.

sunset over moorea