Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea

by Bismark Ramu Group
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Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea
St Andrews Youths doing clean-up in Lae City
St Andrews Youths doing clean-up in Lae City

After attending a training facilitated by Bismarck Ramu Group (BRG) in July this year, a group of vibrant young people from St. Andrews Lutheran Parish in Lae, Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea (PNG), is taking the lead to mobilize communities to stop Deep Sea Tailings Placement(DSTP) a misleading name for mine tailings disposal into the ocean by the Wafi-Golpu mine into the Huon Gulf.

DSTP has become a prominent national issue, as mining tailings in PNG are not regulated by law and so there is no proper monitoring of the environmental impacts. This issue drew international attention in August due to a mine waste spill into the ocean by the Chinese-owned Ramu Nickel mine at Basamuk Bay, Madang Province. The spill caused a red discharge that discoloured, clouded, and poisoned a substantial part of the bay adjacent to the Ramu Nickel plant.

After the training at BRG in July, the Lae-based youth were able to get their church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC) of PNG, to support them in their campaign against exploitative and destructive industrial development in their area. Since 2017, the ELC of PNG has been celebrating the 500-year anniversary of the Reformation within the Lutheran World Federation theme, Liberated through God’s Grace” and three sub-themes: Creation not for sale, Human Beings not for sale, and Salvation not for sale.

Within this context, it was clear to the St. Andrews youth group members that the proposed DSTP for the Wafi-Golpu mine, a Newcrest (Australia) and Harmony Gold (South Africa) joint venture, is not in line with the sub-themes and as such is a violation of God’s Grace. Consequently, the youth initiated their campaign to oppose mine tailings disposal into the Huon Gulf networking effectively and bringing many concerned people into their movement. Local women have been particularly active, supporting their children’s efforts to try to stop the destruction of their environment and protect their land-based livelihoods. The head of the ELC in PNG, the Bishop Dr. Jack Urame, has been clear that his church will do all it can to uphold the key principle, Creation not for Sale – the Bishop said, “As a church and as Christians we must raise our voice against developments that are destructive to the lives of our people and environment. It will affect their livelihood”.

On September 14, 2019, the St. Andrews youth launched an event called Green Day. This event was held two days prior to PNG’s national Independence Day to collect rubbish throughout Lae city. It was highly successful, with young Lutherans from other congregations and parishes within Lae city also joining in the clean-up campaign. In this way, the Green Day clean-up campaign provided a space for the youth to protest against the Wafi-Golpu mine tailings disposal and to also reflect on their own actions with regard to waste pollution.

To show solidarity with the Lae-based campaign, the Karkar Island Solwara Warriors (Ocean Warriors), a member of the Alliance of Solwara Warriors (ASW) and also part of the ELC PNG congregation, led a traditional canoe voyage from Karkar Island in Madang Province all the way to Lae in Morobe Province to help campaign against DSTP. The Karkar Solwara Warriors are well known for having campaigned effectively against Nautilus Mineralsplan to initiate seabed mining in the Bismarck Sea, and are now keen to support the young Lutherans of St. Andrew’s Parish to stop the proposed ocean tailings disposal of the Wafi-Golpu mine in Morobe.

With momentum building, another community from the ELC of PNG joined in the movement the Labu Lutheran community located at the mouth of the Markham River built a traditional canoe to welcome the canoe from Karkar Island. In both Karkar and Markham, such traditional canoes had not been built for several generations and so their revival was particularly important and exciting. The Mayau Lale (Guardian of the Sea) canoe from Karkar, and the Mete Pana (The Way of the Gospel) canoe from Markham as they have been named for their unique roles in their respective societies were both restored through a cultural revival and are now united to Christ’s gospel and the values of the 500 years of Reformation of the ELC. As they sail along the northern coastline of New Guinea, the two canoes will share information with communities and will advocate against large-scale destructive profit-for-the-few-driven activities by corporations, especially foreign-owned ones, in indigenous communities in PNG. At the same time, young people in the church will continue their efforts to press the ELC of PNG to continue to lobby the government.

These young people also plan to bring the agenda of DSTP to the National Lutheran Youth Conference in Lababia, Salamaua, Morobe Province 19-23 September 2019. They are hopeful that, as a result, this important issue will be included on the agenda of the National Lutheran Synod for next year and thus will be presented to the Government of PNG as a concern for the estimated 2 million Lutherans in the country. In this way, Christianity in PNG is becoming an important way for communities including youth to work toward liberating the oppression and suffering of people in PNG in rapidly changing and challenging modern times.

Mayau Lale protests against Ramu Nickel Mine DSTP
Mayau Lale protests against Ramu Nickel Mine DSTP
Local Lutheran congregation with their message
Local Lutheran congregation with their message
Mayau Lale & Mete Pana
Mayau Lale & Mete Pana
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Landowners attending the land summit in Madang
Landowners attending the land summit in Madang

Safeguarding Customary Land or Facilitating Land Theft?

Earlier this year, the PNG Government, through the National Lands Department and the Minister for Lands, launched a National Land Summit on Customary Land in the capital, Port Moresby. The stated purpose of the Land Summit was to listen to and get feedback from customary landowners and Incorporated Land Groups (ILGs) on challenges encountered in ILG and Voluntary Customary Land Registration (VCLR) processes and other land-related matters.

The National Land Summit team carried out consultations in all four regions of the country. The Land Summit for the Momase region was held in Madang on March 7-8, 2019 at the Madang Resort. People had heard that the presence of rural-based community leaders would have a real impact. Consequently, local community leaders travelled from afar to attend the Land Summit. Two local leaders from Madang Maror – a customary alliance of leaders representing the six districts of Madang – and two from Karkar Solwara Warriors (KSW), part of the Alliance of Solwara Warriors (ASW), travelled to Madang town for the summit.

These four community leaders planned to attend the Land Summit in order to question its validity and its role in dealing with pressing land issues, particularly the SABLs (Special Agriculture Business Leases) that had alienated so much customary land from rural people already, as well as ILGs and Land Registration (VCLR). The local leaders viewed the Land Summit as a kind of scam involving corrupt government officials and foreign investors aiming to grab more customary land and to profit from it. They felt that the Land Summit should instead be designed to facilitate a dialogue on the need for FPIC (Free Prior Informed Consent) in resource development for rural custodians of the land.

The traditional community leaders had to travel two full days to reach Madang town for the Land Summit. Their trip started with traveling down river by dinghy from one of the most remote parts of the province, and then walking for several hours before a full day journey on public motor vehicles (PMVs). The PMV part of the trip included terrible road conditions and river crossings on floating bamboo rafts due to collapsed and unpassable bridges. But this did not stop the local leaders from their journey. However, when they arrived, they found that the Land Summit was held in an elite resort hotel with tight security and where accessibility to information was enclosed behind iron gates and barbed wire.

In PNG, land is governed through communal stewardship. Every rural-based Papua New Guinean is born with user rights over customary land – enough land to provide food and other basic needs for one’s family. Therefore, information regarding land is public information and must be shared openly for all. It was a shock to find that in order to attend the Land Summit, the participants – even grassroots PNG citizens – had to pay a K100.00 non-refundable fee. And so the four rural land custodians from Madang Maror and the Alliance of Solwara Warriors (ASW) each had to pay the K100.00 fee to attend. It is estimated that at least one thousand people attended the forum. Many of these people were grassroots rural people who struggled to travel to Madang town and to pay the fee – but who were wanting to better understand how ILGs, VCLR, and other newly imposed land laws operate in the country at present. In this way, the regional Land Summit consultations in Madang raised a substantial sum of money from ordinary grassroots citizens, with the PNG government taking money from the people to collaborate with multinational corporations and commercial banks to the advantage of foreigners and a handful of elite Papua New Guineans. Hence, we see that multinational companies and commercial banks are using the Land Summit process as a mechanism to further facilitate the customary land grab.

It has become obvious that PNG government policy and practice over the past 25 years have not been developed and implemented in the interests of the customary land custodians, aiming to keep land in the hands of the people who still feed their families through traditional agriculture. Instead, the government seems to be acting in the interests of resource extraction companies – companies owned by both foreigners and also PNG elites. If we look at the issue of the illegal Special Agriculture Business Leases (SABLs) which have enabled so much illegal logging in PNG, it is clear that the government is not with the people, but with the companies. As long as the SABL / illegal logging wounds are still bleeding, it is clear that customary land and forests in PNG are still under threat.

If you want to help us to protect customary land and stop the land theft in PNG please donate to Bismarck Ramu Group Land is Life-Land Justice for Papua New Guinea on GlobalGiving.    

    

A woman representative expressing a view point
A woman representative expressing a view point
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The Balangut in its initial stages
The Balangut in its initial stages

Reviving culture, indigenous knowledge, and traditional management of resources, while promoting community self-reliance, are key aspects of community empowerment. The Karkar Island Solwara Warriors, in their tireless efforts to save their sea-based livelihoods and put people over profits, provide an inspirational example of this kind of community empowerment. The work that the Karkar Solwara Warriors do to inform and organize local communities on Karkar Island in order to build opposition to Experimental Seabed Mining (ESM) is bringing about positive social change.

In PNG, the need to seek the indigenous people’s views about industrial development projects – dictated by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) – is often ignored or dealt with in only token ways. Most often, there is an overwhelming lack of Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), with no proper process for gaining the informed consent of communities before resource extraction projects are initiated. For this reason, the Kavailo community on Karkar Island, together with the Karkar Solwara Warriors, are aiming to revitalize their indigenous knowledge and traditional governance systems as they attempt to take back control of issues affecting their land/sea-based livelihoods.

Taking their work to the next level, the Karkar Solwara Warriors decided to try something new – they decided to spearhead an approach focused on the revival of culture aimed at the complete banning of seabed mining in PNG and the Pacific – and they focused this cultural revival on their ocean canoe voyaging tradition.

For over three generations, the Kavailo people of Karkar had not built a large Balangut sailing canoe (balangut is the local name for these large canoes). It takes courage and determination to build a Balangut – a traditional canoe known to Kavailo ancestors for thousands of years. As such, restoring the Balangut canoe-making tradition became a symbol of hope, while also re-valuing and strengthening the indigenous culture. As the community began the process of cutting down the canoe tree and then going through all the others steps required to make a large ocean voyaging canoe, those involved realized that they had a great longing to reconnect with their ancestral past, bringing about a huge sense of fulfillment and happiness when the Balangut was finally completed and launched at sea.

The Balangut became a kind of symbol of customary solidarity, and a voice for the people of Karkar to call on the responsible customary authorities and the national PNG government to BAN seabed mining in the Bismarck Sea, the country, and the Pacific region. As such, the Balangan revival has become a homegrown peoples’ movement, reconnecting and uniting the diverse tribal groups to fight back against destructive foreign resource-extraction projects that destroy the indigenous peoples’ land/sea-based living and well-being.

This community-based movement has helped people to see that their land/sea-based livelihoods, well-being, and culture are essentially the real values of humanity. The land, oceans, and forests provide basic needs and comfort for humanity; while culture is the ancestral spirit that empowers tribal people to revive and honor their true worth – to value nature, value humanity, and keep indigenous culture alive for those who have gone, those who are present, and those yet to be born.

If you want to support the Karkar Solwara Warriors and other local indigenous environmental groups like this, please donate to Land is Life - Land Justice for Papua New Guinea.

      

Young children express concern for the land & sea
Young children express concern for the land & sea
The Balangut, getting ready for the sea protest
The Balangut, getting ready for the sea protest
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Young people setting up coral nursery beds
Young people setting up coral nursery beds

Karkar Island is located in the Bismarck Sea. It is about 65 km north of Madang town, off the north coast of the Papua New Guinea (PNG) mainland. Karkar is a volcanic island with a black sandy coastline, many coconut plantations, and well known for its copra production. The population of the island is 80,000, with most people providing for themselves through traditional fishing and food gardening.

Karkar Islanders have been protesting against the idea of seabed mining ever since the first Mining Warden’s Hearing ten years ago. Due to the strength of the opposition put forward by Karkar and other Madang coastal people, the seabed mining company, Nautilus, abandoned plans for mining off the Madang coast and instead shifted its focus to the Bismarck Sea offshore of West New Ireland. Karkar is situated in the Western Pacific Tuna Catchment Area and the Coral Triangle, and despite much talk by people at high levels of government and business about potential benefits from various ‘development’ projects, nothing has eventuated. Instead, the people of Karkar still see industrial fishing fleets sweeping the sea of its tuna stocks and polluting at the same time, and worry about the potential impacts on the tuna and the marine environment in general. And so the Karkar people have come to see that they need to take control of their future, and not wait or depend on anyone else, continuing to provide for themselves with their own resources from their customary land and sea. This realization led to the birth of the Karkar Solwara Warriors (Karkar Ocean Warriors) – a group of Karkar people committed to fight to protect the Bismarck Sea.

Kavailo Village is located in Kulobob Bay on Karkar Island. It is a Lutheran area where church is considered of great importance, together with local culture and traditions. Through church, school, and community networks, the Karkar Solwara Warriors have been doing awareness on the need to protect the ocean environment that they depend on. As a result, the Solwara Warriors of Kavailo decided to put their environmental awareness into action by initiating coral gardening. The Warriors are restoring corals at Kulobob Bay and Kavailo Lagoon which have been dead for several years, by creating coral nurseries for coral replanting. And now, the coral gardening initiative has led to establishment of the Kulobob Bay Marine Life Restoration Program, a homegrown idea to restore, protect and preserve marine life for future generations. The Karkar Solwara Warriors took advantage of World Environment Day and World Oceans Day to highlight their community initiatives aimed at providing local solutions to the challenges posed by destructive large-scale resource extraction like industrial fishing and seabed mining. These events brought people together and facilitated awareness and exchange of ideas – uniting people to create positive change.

If you would like to support the Karkar Solwara Warriors and other indigenous environmental groups like this, please donate to Land is Life project.

Placing corals on the nursery bed
Placing corals on the nursery bed
Kavailo Lagoon
Kavailo Lagoon
Kulobob Bay
Kulobob Bay
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Locals listening during Warden's Hearing
Locals listening during Warden's Hearing

The Alliance of Solwara Warriors (solwara = ocean) in west coast New Ireland, Papua New Guinea (PNG), together with Team Caritas of Kavieng Diocese put forward a strong message of opposition to seabed mining during the Mining Warden’s Hearings in their area. Four hearings have been held so far – in Burau, Rasirik, Ward 4, and Ward 5 – with representatives from the PNG Mineral Resources Authority (MRA), the company, Nautilus Minerals Niugini Ltd., together with Solwara Warriors, including local village leaders, as well as PNG Council of Churches, women, and youth representatives.

The views and emotions of the local people expressed at the hearings made it clear that that they want a complete BAN on seabed mining and cancellation of the exploration license.

At each Mining Warden’s Hearing, vocal village leaders and other Warriors stood up to articulate the views of their communities – the indigenous custodians of the land and sea – regarding the potential environmental devastation that experimental seabed mining would likely have on the sea, the source of their indigenous livelihoods. The communities made it clear that it is a COMPLETE BAN to seabed mining.      

The Mining Warden explained that the views expressed during the hearing would be presented to the Mining Advisory Committee for further deliberations. The local people were pleased to have the opportunity to make clear their opposition to seabed mining during formal discussions with government and company officials. The Solwara Warriors and their supporters are to be commended for their efforts to organize and speak out – especially as the space for civil society to talk out against large-scale resource extraction projects such as this is shrinking in PNG as the government seems increasingly committed not to listening to its own people but to facilitating access to land and resources by foreign companies. The Warriors are also keeping themselves aware of new challenges, such as the news that China is now also interested in investing in seabed mining in PNG. Despite this, the Solwara Warriors are strong and will continue to oppose environmentally destructive resource extraction in their seas. With financial support, the Bismarck Sea-wide network of Solwara Warriors can meet more often to organize and strengthen its movement to stop seabed mining – in New Ireland, PNG, and throughout the Pacific.

If you would like to help the indigenous communities of the Bismarck Sea BAN experimental seabed mining in PNG and reclaim their sea-based livelihoods, please donate to the Land is Life project.    

Burau Village, Ward 4 Councillor making his point
Burau Village, Ward 4 Councillor making his point
Mining Warden's Hearing Officials
Mining Warden's Hearing Officials
Exploration License 1196, Bismarck Sea
Exploration License 1196, Bismarck Sea
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Organization Information

Bismark Ramu Group

Location: Madang - Papua New Guinea
Website:
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Bismark Ramu Group
Julianne Sapi
Project Leader:
Julianne Sapi
Madang, Madang Papua New Guinea

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