A report by Maureen Penjueli, Coordinator of Pacific Network on Globalization
The Ocean is considered the ‘blue heart’ of the planet and its importance to the stability and sustaining of life is underscored by its contribution to global climate regulation. The ocean provides 50% of atmospheric oxygen and its circulation dynamics of currents make our planet habitable. Of all the oceans and seas, the Pacific Ocean is the single largest geographical feature covering almost one-third of the Earth’s surface (1), an area larger than all the land of the planet combined. It is home to extraordinary biodiversity and unique ecosystems, which provide a global service to the functioning of our planet. No matter where you live on this planet, people directly or indirectly benefit from the health and more importantly the resilience of the Pacific Ocean under the guardianship of indigenous people, which is now under threat.
The Oceanic world gave rise to unique indigenous ways of life and for many Pacific Island peoples, the Ocean is a single living, moving, sacred entity and the bloodline of the people. The indigenous peoples who first navigated the Pacific were renowned for their ocean voyaging abilities and skills. Their cultural practices are crucial for the protection and conservation of ocean resources, which has sustained them for millennia.
In the modern context, the Pacific region consists of 24 Pacific island countries – of which 16 are sovereign countries, while the remaining are trust territories, namely New Zealand, Niue, Cook Islands and Tokelau. Nine other territories belong to France, Indonesia, UK and the US.
The traditional indigenous worldview perceives the ocean as a contiguous environment that needs to be protected, which collides with the modern regime of demarcated nation–state boundaries. Today, the Pacific Ocean has once again become a contested space, likened to the 19th century “scramble for Africa”, between geopolitical powers of the Western world and new emerging powers, like China. Framed as an untapped, underexplored and under-exploited region in the world, much of this contest is to secure corporate economic interests over resources of the Pacific. These worldviews place Pacific peoples resistance struggles at odds with and against the relentless assaults of extractive industries, militarization, consumerism, climate change and colonialism and present grant makers with challenges around the longevity and the complexities of the issues. Given these complexities and their root causes, indigenous communities require sustained long term engagement with grant makers that seek to break the cycle of short-term project focus on outcomes and outputs.
Yet in spite of the challenging conditions faced by indigenous human rights defenders today, there’s much to celebrate and learn from their resistance as they remain at the forefront protecting indigenous territories. Grantmakers have a unique opportunity to learn from the leadership of indigenous groups and movements in the Pacific and respond to their call in a proactive and respectful way. Across the Pacific region, indigenous organizations like the Vanuatu Indigenous Land Defense Desk, the Melanesian Indigenous Land Defense Alliance, Ole Siosiomaga, Edimondik and Pasifika are organizing and collaborating to present an alternative and ensure the continuation of indigenous customs and knowledge that have for centuries put the wellbeing of communities and the ocean ahead of unsustainable development practices.
(1) The Pacific Oceans covers almost 40 million sq km of area (70% of the moon’s surface area). While the combined land area is less than 1.3 million sq km of which 85% is in the continental islands of New Guinea, New Zealand and Hawaii.
Our Success Stories
In recent years, indigenous human rights defenders particularly from Papua New Guinea (PNG), have successfully mobilised support across the Pacific and globally to protect the Pacific Ocean from being the first region in the world to begin experimental seabed mining.
“Our people are very much dependent on the Bismarck Sea for their daily sustenance and with this new form of exploitation taking place it is will affect our people…We are calling on our leaders to ban this untested technology of mining and we will continue to stand with our people,” said Cardinal Sir John Ribat, the Archbishop of PNG.
“We survive on the our ocean and it is our life. Therefore, it is for our children and their children that we are protesting against this experimental project in our waters,” said Dailly Liu, Community Leaders, Ramu Iana Islands, East New Britain Province of PNG.
Supported by scientists, the legal community, academics, churches, feminist movements and policy makers, indigenous human rights defenders have been able to assert the principle of Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) to successfully challenge transnational corporations, such as Nautilus Inc. and seek redress at the national level. They have also been successful in taking their advocacy regionally and globally, building successful allies and alliances to defend their oceanic territories from exploitation of minerals. Their advocacy has helped to shift global players, particularly within the civil society organizations to consider supporting a global ban on seabed mining.
Sea bed mining is a global proposition that takes place against a backdrop of questions around the health of the oceans to sustain life now and into the future. Problems with overfishing and pollution are further complicated by the impacts of climate change, which is already affecting fresh water sources and king tides and storm surges are forcing communities to relocate. Indigenous human rights defenders from small island states have remained the moral authority on issues that affect their very existence, having played almost little to no part in the causes of climate change. In the Pacific there are wonderful stories of resilience of people to the very real existential threat posed by climate change. A new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change paints a very stark picture for small island nation, such as those in the Pacific if the world does not curb greenhouse gas emissions to below 1.5 degrees within the next 12 years.
“We are the last generation that will be remembered to guarantee humanity’s survival. We have one shot at getting it right. Let us not fail our people and the future of humanity,” said Samuel Manetoali, Minister of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management & Meteorology, Solomon Islands.
The impacts of climate change particularly on small island states raise challenging questions for the international community, including funders around the questions of sovereignty, identity and cultures as island nations and territories slowly submerge as a result of sea level rise.
These successes are based on relationships and solidarity within and beyond the Pacific, which some grantmakers have continued to support, leading to success on a greater scale for indigenous communities. Some of these grantmakers, such as the Christensen Fund, Bread for the World, a German church grantmaker, have deliberately located themselves in the region and accompanied these processes for a long time, establishing strong relationships with communities and partners and developing a deeper understanding of the context of the region. Although the initial investment and maintaining a presence in the region comes at a considerable cost compared to other regions in the world, the long term gains in terms of the relationships give grantmakers, such as the Christensen Fund and Bread for the World a comparative advantage over other grantmakers. Many grantmakers tend to prioritise efficiency by keeping their officers in metropolitan centres over relationship building, which is not conducive to secure the long term impact that communities are working towards.
In this brief, we seek to highlight two distinctively different case studies that have similar root causes: 1) Indigenous communities in West Papua continue to struggle for fundamental human rights and freedom, which have implications on their systems and territories under occupation, such as customary land tenure, language preservation and kastom practices tied with health of well being of people; 2) In the Marshall Islands, we examine the links between climate change and historical nuclear testing. We also provide some clear examples of how funders have and can continue to support the efforts of indigenous human rights defenders in the Pacific.
 In Vanuatu there has been a focus on kastom food for example yam which is being affected by Climate Change. Efforts such as modifying yams to be more resilient to climate change so that kastom practices can continue into the future,
 www.oxfam.org.au/2016/09/10 quotes that show why the Pacific nations are leading the world on climate action
Indigenous Organizations in Action
It is against the backdrop of this global economic and planetary significance of the health and resilience of the Pacific Ocean, and our roles as custodians, that deep sea mining has been, must be and will be resisted in the region. In 2011, a collective which included feminist community groups, regional Non-Governmental Organisations and faith based-organisations began to organise initially around research and analysis to better understand the issues and its implications for Pacific peoples and the ocean as a response to the economic imperatives for deep sea minerals.
Working closely with impacted community groups, scientists, academics and human rights lawyers, the collective began to mobilise significant public opinion on the issue to re-engage and hold governments, transnational corporations and regional and international agencies to account. In 2012, the collective mobilized over 8,000 signatures to caution Pacific Island Forum Leaders over deep sea mining, while in 2014 the Lutheran church issued a signed petition representing over 1 million of its members to the PNG Government over growing concerns over impacts of deep sea mining. Ongoing community resistance, including a legal case in 2017, has frustrated efforts by Nautilus Inc., which was set to begin commercial mining in 2016 at its Solwara 1 project in PNG.
In Vanuatu, working closely with the Vanuatu Council of Churches and the Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta, the collective was able to persuade the government to review the 140 licenses that were issued without the prior knowledge of previous governments, the parliament let alone the custodians of the ocean. Globally, activists from PNG and Fiji made an appeal in Europe in 2014 to garner support for a ban in sea bed mining; it took 3 years of lobbying and advocacy efforts by European partners until 2017 before the European Parliament supported a moratorium on deep sea mining. Palau has placed a ban on commercial activities, including fisheries and mining within its territorial waters, while Samoa has indicated some initial concerns regarding deep sea mining. The director of Mineral Resources of Fiji has publicly announced that it will not be issuing any further new licenses for exploration for seabed minerals. Although these are some initial successes of ongoing resistance, at the writing of this paper 3 machines weighing over 300 tonnes each are currently being wet water tested in PNG for the anticipated start of commercial mining in PNG.
We thank the team of the Pacific Network on Globalization (PANG) for collaborating with IFIP to write this report.
Author: Maureen Penjueli, Coordinator of PANG
We are grateful for the generous support of our funders, who are resourcing the production of these briefs on Indigenous defenders: American Jewish World Service,Lush Cosmetics and Swift Foundation.
- Lourdes Inga: Editor of Indigenous Defenders Briefs for Funders
- Rucha Chitnis: Coordinator of the Indigenous Defenders Briefs for Funders
- Luminita Cuna: Web Producer