Education, Colonisation and Kanak Aspirations in New Caledonia: Historical Contexts and Contemporary Challenges
New Caledonia is an anomoly. Surrounded by independent nations in the South-West Pacific, it remains a non-self governing territory of France. Some of the residents are recognised, even by France, as “citizens” of the “country” of New Caledonia. The indigenous Kanak people have not been reduced to the minority status of the indigenous peoples of the neighbouring settler states of Australia and New Zealand. But at 39 percent of the islands’ population in the latest census, the lowest proportion since records began, and facing an overwhelmingly anti-independence settler population, Kanak people approach next year’s self-determination vote with understandable anxiety about their future. It is now almost thirty years since the New Caledonia’s increasingly violent independence struggle was brought back from the brink with the signing of the Matignon Accords. The peace agreement between the newly elected French Prime Minister, Michel Rocard, and the leaders of the main pro- and anti-independence groupings set out a ten-year process of development and social and economic “rebalancing” culminating in a vote on independence, a process extended by the Nouméa Accord in 1998. This paper discusses the role of education in the Kanak independence struggle. It analyses how education became central to the struggle for Kanak socialist independence. It also examines ways in which differing ideas and strategies regarding educational challenges reflect different perspectives on Kanak social, cultural and political aspirations. It argues that these perspectives go to the heart of the future society Kanak people are seeking to construct in New Caledonia.