Kanak Flag – the indigenous people of New Caledonia
New Caledonia (French: Nouvelle-Calédonie) is a special collectivity of France located in the southwestPacific Ocean, 1,210 kilometres (750 mi) east of Australia and 16,136 kilometres (10,026 mi) east ofMetropolitan France. The archipelago, part of the Melanesia subregion, includes the main island ofGrande Terre, the Loyalty Islands, the Belep archipelago, the Isle of Pines and a few remote islets. TheChesterfield Islands in the Coral Sea are also part of New Caledonia. Locals refer to Grande Terre as “Le Caillou”, the stone.
New Caledonia is a sui generis collectivity that has been gradually transferred certain powers from France. It is governed by a 54-member Territorial Congress, a legislative body composed of members of three provincial assemblies. The French State is represented in the territory by a High Commissioner. At a national level, New Caledonia is represented in the French Parliament by two deputies and two senators. At the 2012 French presidential election the voter turnout in New Caledonia was 61.19%.
For 25 years, the party system in New Caledonia was dominated by the anti-independence The Rally–UMP.This dominance ended with the emergence of a new party, Avenir Ensemble, also opposed to independence but considered more open to dialogue with the Kanak movement, which is part of FLNKS, a coalition of several pro-independence groups.
The Kanak society has several layers of customary authority, from the 4,000-5,000 family-based clans to the eight customary areas (aires coutumières) that make up the territory. Clans are led by clan chiefs and constitute 341 tribes, each headed by a tribal chief. The tribes are further grouped into 57 customary chiefdoms (chefferies), each headed by a Head Chief, and forming the administrative subdivisions of the customary areas.
Jean Lèques during a ceremony honoring U.S. service members who helped ensure the freedom of New Caledonia during World War II.
The Customary Senate is the assembly of the various traditional councils of the Kanaks, and has jurisdiction over the law proposals concerning the Kanak identity. The Customary Senate is composed of sixteen members appointed by each traditional council, with two representatives per each customary area. In its advisory role, the Customary Senate must be consulted on law proposals “concerning the Kanak identity” as defined in the Noumea Accord. It also has a deliberative role on law proposals that would affect identity, the civil customary statute and the land system. A new President is appointed each year in August or September, and the presidency rotates between the eight customary areas.
Kanak people recourse to customary authorities regarding civil matters such as marriage, adoption, inheritance, and some land issues. The French administration typically respects decisions made in the customary system. However, their jurisdiction is sharply limited in penal matters, as some elements of the customary justice system, including the use of corporal punishment, are seen as clashing with the human rights obligations of France..