The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) sponsored a visit to Canada by four residents of the South Pacific archipelago of New Caledonia – two of them indigenous – who are trying to get information from mining giant Inco Ltd. about the environmental effects of a nickel-cobalt project in their country.
“We have to have a future vision for our people – how we can evolve with development. We have concern for our environment,” said Georges Mandaoue, president of the Senat Coutumier, a group that represents native Kanaks, who make up about 45 per cent of New Caledonia’s population of 211,000.
The New Caledonia team visited the Anglican Church of Canada’s national office in Toronto in October to present their case to church members, including the primate’s fund, which is covering $3,000-$4,000 of the tour’s expenses. Also attending were representatives of the United Steelworkers of America, which is also sponsoring the tour.
Besides Mr. Mandaoue, the group included Regis Vendegou, secretary general of the Senat Coutumier, Jacques Mermoud, secretary general of Action Biosphere and Rick Anex, a member of Action Biosphere, an environmental group in New Caledonia.
Toronto-based Inco, a major Canadian mining company, has had a presence in New Caledonia since 1984, a pilot operation for the past two years and plans to ramp up its $1.4 billion (U.S.) nickel-cobalt mine in 2004. Located in Goro, in the southern part of New Caledonia, the project is called Goro Nickel and shareholders include the French government. New Caledonia is a French protectorate.
Members of the group said the mining project could endanger the unique bio-diversity of the area as well as the delicate coral reefs and fishing grounds, source of food for the Kanaks.
They said they have tried to no avail to get a copy of an environmental report prepared by Inco and given to the New Caledonia government.
Mr. Mandaoue said they were told in New Caledonia that the information was in Toronto, but at a meeting with Inco executives in Toronto, they were told the report was in New Caledonia.