The following text is an interview between Hinamoeura CROSS and Anaïs DUONG-PEDICA for the La Pause Décoloniale. La Pause Décoloniale is a radio show founded by Roselyne MAKALU in Kanaky/New Caledonia that “gives the mic to women from Kanaky/New Caledonia, to women from the Pacific, to women from elsewhere, who formulate and re-formulate society in a context of decolonisation”. It is broadcasted in French on Djiido radio and the podcast episodes are published on La Pause Décoloniale’s Youtube channel. This episode was recorded on September 24th 2022, edited by Stéphanie COULON, broadcasted on October 7th 2022 and translated from French to English by Anaïs DOUNG-PEDICA. It was edited by Talei LUSCIA MANGIONI.
Translation note: In the context of this interview, “Polynesia” refers to “French Polynesia”. “Fait nucléaire” in French was also translated to “nuclearism” or “nuclear testing”.
Roselyne MAKALU: Hi, I am Roselyne MAKALU – Bosu së ame la ejenge tre Canganë Makalu – the founder of the show/podcast. Today, I have the honour of introducing this 17th episode on the theme of ‘anti-nuclear activism in Mā’ohi Nui’. Anaïs DUONG-PEDICA meets Hinamoeura CROSS, lawyer and activist for nuclear reparations and the recognition of the Mā’ohi people. She carries the voices of the many victims of the 193 nuclear tests carried out by France between 1966 and 1996 in Mā’ohi Nui.
Hinamoeura CROSS, diagnosed with leukemia caused by radiation at the age of 25, was herself a victim of these nuclear tests. This Mā’ohi activist denounces and lifts the veil on the ignorance maintained by the French State, on nuclearism and its consequences on the people of Mā’ohi Nui, an endless legacy.
While one of the workshops of the Pacific Feminist Forum KNC on Saturday, October 1, 2022 at the South Pacific Community focused on the militarisation of the region, let us recall that these tests have enabled France to place itself among the major military world powers… But at what cost for the Mā’ohi people? At what cost for the peoples of the Pacific?
In this interview, Hinamoeura CROSS also talks to us about the colonial mentality which persists and thrives, the lack of respect for Mā’ohi people, political issues, the struggle of the Tavini Huira’atira pro-independence party… We find that what she says echoes our experiences here in Kanaky/New Caledonia.
Here’s the interview with Hinamoeura CROSS answering Anaïs DUONG-PEDICA’s questions for La Pause Décoloniale. Have a good decolonial break.
Anaïs DUONG-PEDICA: Hello Hinamoeura, you are a lawyer, the mother of a boy, and an activist for nuclear reparations in Polynesia and for the recognition of the Mā’ohi people. You live in Papeete and you carry the voices of the many victims of the 193 nuclear tests carried out by France between 1966 and 1996 in Mā’ohi Nui. You are yourself a victim of these tests since you were diagnosed with radiation-induced leukemia in 2013, when you were 25 years old.
As part of your activism, you notably made an intervention at the United Nations forum in 2019 and you were more recently invited by the ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) at the United Nations’ First Meeting of States Parties for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in Vienna, Austria, last June.
Thank you for accepting our invitation and joining us for this interview.
Hinamoeura CROSS: Thank you.
Anaïs DUONG-PEDICA: First, could tell us about your activism?
Hinamoeura CROSS: I’ve really started activism in 2018. I did become ill in 2013 but I didn’t make the connection with nuclear testing right away, even though leukemia was on the list of radiation-induced illnesses and there were many people in my family who had radiation-induced illnesses, especially thyroid cancers and breast cancers, because nuclearism is a relatively taboo subject. It’s something that we do not speak about and that we weren’t studying at school when I was going to school. So it’s really in October 2018, when Oscar Temaru, the president of the pro-independence party in Polynesia, filed a complaint against France at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity following French nuclear testing in Polynesia, that I realised the impact of those tests not only on our country but also on our people. So when he did that, I became curious because it huge in the media in French Polynesia. So in 2018, I was 30 years old and that is when I became conscious that there were 193 nuclear tests. In my mind, I thought that there had been 3 or 4, so I found this out with dread.
After that, I did some research. I knew the history of world wars and the nuclear bombs that had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and now I am finding out there was one atmospheric test that was done in Polynesia which was 150 times more powerful than Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So I was completely taken aback. If there was one test that was 150 times more powerful than Hiroshima and Nagasaki, what about those other 192 bombs that had exploded in our country? That’s when I become conscious of the lies from the State and all that has been done. I also told myself that if I’m 30 years old and I’m only finding out about this now, I think a lot of people aren’t aware just like me, especially my generation, and that’s when I start to really become an activist by first becoming a member of the Association 193 which fights for the recognition of nuclearism and the illnesses related to nuclearism. That’s also why I went to the United Nations to denounce this and to continue my fight. It was really with the aim of raising awareness within the population locally.
Anaïs DUONG-PEDICA: Thank you very much for highlighting this. I’m interested by the fact that you have talked about nuclearism as a taboo subject because in Kanaky/New Caledonia, I don’t know if you’ve heard about it before, but Louis-José Barbançon, a historian from Kanaky/New Caledonia, speaks of a culture of the unsaid in our country.[i] So that means that there is a lot of ignorance related to the history of the country, which is not taught at school… So we don’t even speak of forgetting history but of ignorance when it comes to history, so is it the same in your context as far as nuclearism is concerned?
Hinamoeura CROSS: I’ll say that yes, we can talk about the unsaid, but when it comes to ignorance, I would add that this ignorance is organised and planned by the State. That is why I have said that we cannot separate the history of nuclearism in Polynesia from our colonial history. Firstly because whether it was in the 1960s or today in 2022, we cannot dissociate colonialism from the history of nuclearism because today we live it through a sort of fear of speaking. We’re also a little lost today and that’s what’s terrible, because even when I’m speaking to my people, to Polynesians, I have to defend myself when I say that my illness comes from nuclear testing. Because for so many years we have been hammered with the lie that the tests were clean, so people are a little lost. Therefore, there are two things that harm the anti-nuclear struggle: fear and ignorance.
This fear comes from our history. Among our politicians, there was one politician who was firmly opposed to nuclearism amongst others, so one politician who was a bit like our local Robin Hood and who had a large political impact. His name was Pouvanaa a Oopa and he was arrested unfairly. The French State made up false evidence by burning an administrative building in order to accuse him and imprison him. They exiled him to Paris for years. From the moment that this happened, all politicians and the whole of Polynesia became fearful of persecution. Even though today the French State continues to say that Polynesians allowed for France to test nuclear weapons on their lands, it is totally wrong. We did not have a choice, politicians at the time did not have a choice. Unfortunately, nowadays, my people, and even myself, we still carry the stigma of this fear of the Pouvanaa affair. Many people, still to this day, don’t dare to show themselves, to talk about it, it’s a taboo subject. For example, it’s rare to see anyone in the public service be anti-nuclear activists because they would be scared to lose their job or to be sent for a job elsewhere.
Something else in relation to nuclearism is that we tell ourselves, and that’s sad, that the white man, the French man, is right. So that if he said it was “clean”, then it was “clean”. Us, Indigenous Polynesians, we are inferior to them. I’m saying this from personal experience because even though I was quite advanced in my research on nuclearism and I knew about the State lie about it. In February 2020, I saw the High-Commissioner of French Polynesia, who is the representative of the State, say on TV that we need to stop talking about nuclearism because there are less sick people [with physical and psychological disabilities] in Polynesia than in France. When he said that, for a moment, as a Polynesian woman, I told myself ‘why do you fight and say that we have cancer clusters when there is the State chief, who is super smart, who just said that there aren’t more sick people here than in France?’ So for a few seconds, I believed him, until I got a hold of myself and I rejected what he said because what he had said was extremely wrong. On top of this, there has never been a study on the incidence of illness in our communities so he was openly lying. As a Polynesian, as a colonised person, as a colony, I told myself ‘he is white, he said this, therefore it is true’. And I’m not the only one to have thought this, even though I’ve studied at university, so it’s unbelievable that he has this impact on me.
That’s why in July, when I did a speech, I took the opportunity to deal with him head on. I spoke at Tarahoi Place, a place that is near his home. I said ‘I knew you had studied law, but I didn’t know you had studied medicine to be able to say that Mr. High-Commissioner’. I had written this speech for Polynesians, to say that we need to stop letting them say and do what they want, because they’re white, because they said the tests were “clean”, to encourage us to be careful with State propaganda… But I’m fighting against propaganda that has being going on for decades. It’s been over 50 years since it started in the 1960s. I want to say that perhaps for the 1990s generation, it’ll be easier to convince them, but for people who are in their sixties today, it’s very difficult. Because for years they’ve been hammered with the good of this and the good of that…
Even today, we have politicians, including Senator Lana Tetuanui, who says in front of the National Assembly ‘if my people are sick, it is because they’re obese, alcoholics, and they smoke too many cigarettes’. When she says that, I want to respond to her ‘I invite you to go see the thousands of Polynesian children diagnosed with leukemia in Paris, in Parisian hospitals, who drown the pediatric services. Tell me now if it’s because they’re alcoholics, if it’s because they smoke too many cigarettes or if it’s because they don’t eat well?’ So it’s a struggle that I’ve taken up because I really want to raise awareness amongst Polynesians.
I also like to speak of re-educating, because we’ve not had the education that we should have had. We’ve had a colonial education, to format us, to fit the mould, that tells us that we need to thank the French State for everything. Except that, yes, it’s true we have had an economic boom, we have roads, we have cars, but at what cost? At the cost of a sick population. I’ll even go as far as saying: at the cost of a poisoned population. Poisoned for generations and generations. We don’t even know when it’ll stop. And that’s what’s terrible, it’s not even quantifiable.
Anaïs DUONG-PEDICA: When you speak of re-education in relation to what you said about the French State propaganda, it makes me think that that is a need to un-educate, to remove all the layers of State propaganda, in order to be able to re-educate. You also mentioned fear, which is justified, how do you overcome this fear? As an activist, aren’t you fearful?
Hinamoeura CROSS: So I wasn’t scared at all when I started. I was actually so outraged, and I was mad at myself for realising all this only at the age of 30. So I was annoyed with myself for not knowing all this, even though I am rather educated, I had always been good at school, I went far in my studies… So I wasn’t thinking about this and it’s other people who made me become fearful because I started receiving messages… Nothing threatening but often journalists asking me ‘but aren’t you scared?’. So my first answer would be ‘should I be scared?’. And it continues now. There are some Polynesians who ask me ‘but where do you work to dare say all this out loud?’. So I tried to detach myself from all this and to ask myself ‘what are they going to do to me if they want me to stop talking?’. Then I told myself that I have to keep doing what I do because we must show Polynesians that we should no longer be scared, so I don’t think about it. Now every time I receive something like this, or someone asks me a question like this, I pretend I did not read it and I continue my fight because it is so outrageous. I also tell myself that perhaps the more I speak up, the more it is likely that others will, and that it will allow for some people to come out of their silence. I think it works because I receive a lot of supporting messages from Polynesians that say ‘you woke me up’ or ‘I didn’t know this, now I know. It changes my opinion’, ‘you educated me’ and that’s exactly my objective.
Anaïs DUONG-PEDICA: I can imagine that it must be so encouraging. My next question builds on what you just said: what are your political objectives?
Hinamoeura CROSS: So I’m not going to hide myself… Because for a long time I was not pro-independence. But I’m proud to say that I grew up with a pro-independence family, pro-independence parents. So we could say that the apple did not fall far from the tree since my two parents were examples of strength. My dad founded the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme (Human Rights League). He is a Polynesian lawyer, he was one of the first Polynesian lawyers. He was very close to the Kanak community because he studied in France. It’s funny because us Islanders we always end up finding each other. I have pictures of my dad with the FLNKS (Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste). He has Kanak brothers, he’s grown up with this community. He has always been a great workers union advocate, and has always defended human rights and especially Mā’ohi rights. My mum is also a pro-independence politician. But I was not myself pro-independence and they never pushed me into politics or activism.
On the contrary, I was against all this because it was not easy. I was in very popa’a schools… Popa’a means French. So very white schools and it was not easy for me to be the daughter of pro-independence people and it was also not the trendiest political party. But I am proud to be able to say that I have become pro-independence now, by seeing all this: State propaganda, nuclear testing and travelling as well. I’ve seen what France does to our country by making us believe that without them, we’re nothing. That’s totally wrong. The more I go on the international scene, like to Vienna for the 1MSP for the TPNW, the more I realise the strength of the Polynesian territory and the power that we are. That we actually are an asset for France. So today my objective is to start a foundation to give myself the means, like you said, to “un-educate” people after all this State propaganda and re-educate Polynesian society, so that we can stop telling ourselves that without France, we’re nothing. I grew up with this idea that we need to thank France for everything, that we exist thanks to France. I’ve grown up with this idea that if we become independent, we’ll become nothing. We would live like our ancestors, no electricity, nothing. That’s completely wrong.
My objective today is the recognition of the Mā’ohi people, to safeguard local employment… Because today, and I’m not scared to use this word, we are being invaded, notably since the COVID crisis, by Metropolitan people who come to settle, and who come to live here as though they were in France, on conquered lands, with a very colonial mindset thinking that here, it’s France. I am totally opposed to this kind of behaviour. We’re not in France, we’re in Polynesia. We have a culture, it should be respected and our people should also be respected. For me, it is imperative to protect local employment when faced with this wave of Metropolitan who settle in our country. We also have another problem and that is the fact that Polynesians can no longer find homes. Prices have skyrocketed and increased by 40% within less than 5 years.
Anaïs DUONG-PEDICA: Thank you for raising these issues. We will return to these at the end of the interview because we would like to know the links between the fight against nuclearism, the anti-colonial struggle and the issues of local employment, Indigenous language and culture in the Polynesian context. At the beginning of the interview, you spoke about your activism which started at a local level with “Association 193”. Can you tell us why it is important to be involved locally but also internationally, since now you’re very visible on the international scene?
Hinamoeura CROSS: Actually when I started to speak publicly for the first time, it was on July 2nd 2019, the commemoration day of the first nuclear test. Right away I told myself I want to talk about it internationally. At the local level, I realised that very few people knew the extent of the damage of nuclear testing or even just the number of tests. Very few people knew there were 193 tests so I thought that it must be even worse at the international level. I also wanted to talk about it internationally to show France that perhaps there isn’t much anti-nuclear movement in Tahiti, but I want to alert people internationally. The United Nations is perfect because you are speaking in front of other Heads of State or consuls or ministers and that is why it was important in order to show France what it did, despite the fact that in front of the 4th Commission of the United Nations, which takes place every October, France always walks out when pro-independence Polynesians speak…
The politics of the ‘empty chair’ is not important but for me the idea is to address the other states and to say ‘here’s what France did and today France still does not take its responsibility in relation to support and monitoring at the humanitarian, medical and environmental impacts’. That was also the aim in Vienna because at the 1MSP for the TPNW, France was not present nor a signatory. So I was sponsored by ICAN France and for me when I went there, my objective was not to speak to France but to speak to other heads of states, and it was good that I was there with the vice-president of the Association 193, Léna Normand, because we were the only two Polynesians who were there. I wonder if we had not been there whether the other states would have thought ‘the only ones to be absent are the Polynesians, so that means that France has fulfilled all its obligations in relations to them’, which is totally untrue. Therefore, for me, we must persist at the local level as well as the international level.
Vienna was a big step because thanks to this treaty, even though we’re not signatories, we could obtain support to remediate our environment and for medical assistance. Because one of the things I condemn is the fact that we do not have a healthcare system that matches the damage done and the consequences of nuclear testing. I’ll tell you an anecdote: When the tests started in 1966, we were no longer a colony on paper, but we still were and we still are today. France had the responsibility for healthcare at the time of the first tests.[ii] That meant it was them who were in charge of healthcare and the health expenses of Polynesians and French people living in Polynesia. The first cancers and illnesses after a nuclear bomb appeared 10 years later. So what happens in Polynesia 10 years after the first test? It was like a “gift” that France offered for the autonomy of Polynesians… They gave us ‘back’ the responsibility for healthcare. So it was, I think, 1977 or 1978, ‘for the autonomy of French Polynesia, we give you healthcare as a new responsibility.’ So here we are, for 40 years paying our health expenses ourselves, including all the illnesses caused by radiation. So our social fund is in complete deficit by billions of Pacific Francs. That’s what I was denouncing in 2019 and that I continue to denounce.
We had a first crime against humanity with these 193 nuclear bombs. Often, it is said that for it to be a crime against humanity, there must be an intention to harm, and I said that there was perhaps not a direct intention but there were omission and lies. They knew they were harming us with these nuclear tests from the first test. So to have done this was the first crime against humanity and for me, to let us pay for all these illnesses caused by radiation is a second crime against humanity. Nowadays, our health expenses weigh a lot on our society so I find this terrible. Social charges and taxes are very high. So those are things that I condemn when it comes to nuclearism.
Anaïs DUONG-PEDICA: So you denounce those things at the international and local level to put pressure on France. Within this context, to what extent do you work with other activists from the Pacific and the rest of the world?
Hinamoeura CROSS: Let’s say that I have had several contacts from my trip to Vienna in Austria last June. At this stage, it’s more communication of information by emails, Zoom or Whatsapp. But concretely, there have not been any actions that have been put in place yet. With ICAN France, that is more the case in the sense that they gave me documents so that mayors can sign and adhere to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. So this is something concrete. But with other people, it’s not yet there, but I hope it’ll come to something very soon.
Locally, it’s more at the level of communications but I think that things will evolve because next year there are the territorial elections. This year, there was a deputy (Members of Parliament) election and the pro-independence party, which I am part of and close to, won the three seats at the National Assembly so that’s a big step for us in Polynesia. So I hope for some evolution next year if we win the territorial elections, because then we would have all the legitimacy to continue to oppose the State. This was not necessarily the case in the previous years since we didn’t have the electoral follow. I think that’s great and encouraging because it shows that there is a coming to consciousness among Polynesians. That’s why at the beginning my activism was more focused on nuclearism and I had noticed that the way I was speaking and the videos I was making were working to raise awareness, so I started to speak about other topics such local employment, or the invasion of French people from the Metropole. I started to talk about these this year in relation to the legislative elections because I wanted for people to see that beyond having a growing awareness, what’s important is to vote. That is why I started to talk about other topics such as employment and I was encouraging everyone to vote for the legislative elections.
At first, I didn’t want to show that I was pro-independence because a lot of people are closed to this in Polynesia, because they have these taken-for-granted assumptions that without France, we are nothing. So I was only trying to raise awareness and to show that the autonomist party was not necessarily the best party and that, for me, they are the puppets of the State.[iii] They are in Polynesia to serve French interests and not the interests of the people of Mā’ohi Nui. With the first videos, I felt that people were realising a lot of things, and then when I saw that the three pro-independence candidates were elected for the second round, I totally showed myself. I think this was the right way to do it because I opened people little by little to the idea of independence and the idea that we won’t be anything after. The pro-independence party will work so that we can continue to live the way we do today. I am really glad that we have three pro-independence deputies (Members of Parliament) and I wish us a pro-independence government next year which, unlike the government we have now, would serve the interests of our people.
Anaïs DUONG-PEDICA: It’s funny because at La Pause Décoloniale, we got to know you through these videos. It was after watching those that we found out about the anti-nuclear part of your activism. That’s important because I suspect that another thing that we have in common between Kanaky/New Caledonia and Mā’ohi Nui is that a lot of people are frightened of independence, because they do not know what comes after. There is an activist from Kanaky/New Caledonia whose name is Florenda Nirikani, whom we interviewed in our first episode of the podcast. She once said that people are scared of independence because we don’t know what comes after. I imagine that through these videos you made the pro-independence struggle more accessible and acceptable so that it becomes less scary and people can familiarise themselves with it…
Hinamoeura CROSS: Totally.
Anaïs DUONG-PEDICA: I also suspect, even though I’m not very familiar with the context in Mā’ohi Nui, that people are a little tired of politics and do not necessarily understand everything that is at stake at the political level. So to make those videos enables people to understand how these things impact them.
Hinamoeura CROSS: Yes, that was exactly the reason. However, while the pro-independence party has won the three seats, we should not believe that this is an end in and of itself because we have a government… I don’t think there has been a worse government in the history of French Polynesian governance. So there was a protest vote. Yes, some people came to awareness, but people have also had enough.[iv] Therefore the aim is to work so that the idea of independence becomes accepted by people and they are no longer fearful of it. It’s very complicated because there are decades of State propaganda around the idea that independence will lead to disaster. I think that’s an idea that all Polynesians have assimilated and integrated these ideas through the French education. It’s as if tomorrow I told you that the world is flat and not round… But I swear I’ve learnt all my life that is was… So that’s what’s a little difficult but I will continue to explain to people and make those videos, at least until the territorial elections, to raise awareness. To also say that while there are a lot of people who complain on Facebook or on social media, we must follow things through and vote. But, of course, like in France, in Polynesia, people are sort of fed up with politicians and we need to convince people that things can change if they vote.
Anaïs DUONG-PEDICA: In order for people to understand the link between the pro-independence movement and anti-nuclearism, since there are anti-nuclear movements that are not necessarily anti-colonial nor working with decolonisation as part of their agenda, I also wanted to ask you what are the limits of an anti-nuclear movement that does not take into consideration the colonial situation and the need for decolonisation?
Hinamoeura CROSS: So there are indeed anti-nuclear movements that are pro-State. They denounce but they do not go further. On top of that, corruption is something that is so common in Polynesia and it started from the arrest of Pouvanaa. Some told themselves that since nuclear testing would be forced on us, then they might as well benefit from it financially. So that’s what’s led us to where we are now, and even today, we have a corrupt government. So for me, an anti-nuclear movement cannot not be anti-colonial, it’s impossible. Otherwise, it’s just looking away because even today, the State does not recognise nuclear testing in its entirety: it does not recognise all the illnesses, it does not recognise that it impacts multiple generations. For me, the first political party that has always denounced nuclear testing is the pro-independence party. It’s the Tavini Huiraatira with Oscar Temaru. In the last years, we can see that a few autonomist parties are talking about it as though it’s now trendy. Even our current President, Edouard Fritch, confessed in 2018 that ‘yes, we have lied with Gaston Flosse about the fact that the tests were clean. When we see a bomb explode, we know full well that it is harmful’. When he said that in 2018, he was already President of French Polynesia, and it brought tears to my eyes because I asked myself ‘oh my god, will he, at last, challenge France, even though he is autonomist, and defend us as Polynesian victims of nuclearism?’. But he quickly changed sides with the senator Lana Tetuanui, by agreeing with what she says and minimising everything. The final blow was when he came on TV, I think it was in July 2021, to say ‘we have to turn the page of nuclear testing, we have to move on.’
That’s why I have done so many videos… Once someone asked me ‘what has Mr. Edouard Fritch done to you for you to be so vindictive towards him?’ I think it was when he said this, because it was at a time during my illness that was very tough, in the sense that I was struggling to bear the treatment. I was extremely tired at work and as a mother because of it. So when he said that we must turn the page of nuclear testing and move on, I was on my medicine and I was enraged. I wanted to break the TV. I wondered ‘how could you say this to Polynesians’, because he was speaking to Polynesians, ‘that we must turn the page of nuclear testing’, I was just… I was with my son and I had a book, so I took the book and told my son ‘look, I’m turning the page, does that mean that mum is no longer ill?’. So in the end, we laughed. Because I can turn all the pages I want, my illness is still here and for now, it is incurable. So how do you want me to turn the page? And I told myself, how can the President of French Polynesia dare tell Polynesians to turn the page of nuclear testing and to move on? I was thinking of all the people who are ill, all the people who are suffering in their flesh and blood. Because the greatness of France, I carry it in my flesh and blood through this leukaemia that I have had for 9 years now, like many Polynesians who are ill. So yes, they are right, I am vindictive toward Edouard Fritch since that moment, and this is what leads me in my struggle. I am angry and at the same time I find it so sad: how can one be bought to deny his own people? Because we’re talking about a population that is sick. How can you side with the French state to the extent that you are denying your own people and leave it to suffer? Perhaps that’s why I want to speak up even more, when I see things like these, it’s really shocking.
Anaïs DUONG-PEDICA: Perhaps this is also something that we have in common: this anti-independence discourse that says ‘we must turn the page, we must move on’, when we are yet to really face colonialism, nuclear testing and their impact… When we have not even reached this page yet…
Hinamoeura CROSS: Exactly. We are not even aware of our history and they want us to write another history.
Anaïs DUONG-PEDICA: That’s it. We want to project ourselves in the future when we’re not even yet in the present, nor in the past to some extent, since we cannot agree on history…
Hinamoeura CROSS: In the context of nuclear testing, it’s impossible to turn the page because the impact of nuclear testing is still felt in terms of health. If it had stopped in 1996, no problem, but that’s not the case. Even today, with children. I’m a mother and I am so grateful to have my son. He was 1 ½ year old when we learnt about my diagnosis and then they told me I wouldn’t be able to have any more children. So I’m grateful because he is also the one who gives me strength to continue this struggle. What I’m doing is not to change things in 2022, but for the future of our children in Polynesia. So my son is my objective: how will he live? In what conditions will he live on our lands? That’s why for me, we need to raise awareness now, because it is our children who will continue our struggle tomorrow and unfortunately to this day, we still have a lot of children who are ill. Even though France does not recognise the intergenerational character of illnesses caused by radiation, we can see that this view is not realistic.
Personally, having become a mother is what made me who I am today and what made me into a woman. What’s terrible for me is to know that some Polynesians choose not to have children by fear of transmitting this illness. It breaks my heart and at the same time, I understand because they will live with the fear of passing on this illness. But it’s horrible what France has done to our people, I wouldn’t know how to describe it. It’s criminal, it’s inhumane. My heart breaks for these young Polynesian couples who by fear of having sick children choose not to have children in order to not perpetuate… Because it’s not solely the illnesses cause by radiation, it’s also a lot of physical and intellectual disabilities… I am lucky to have a healthy child and I’m very grateful for that but that’s not the case of a lot of Polynesians. Is that our life? Generations of physically and intellectually disabled people? That’s not what I wish for us.
Anaïs DUONG-PEDICA: I had never thought of the fact that some couples refuse to have children because of this fear…
Hinamoeura CROSS: I got to know this when I started doing research, when I started activism, that’s when I was told this. Because they have several cases like these in their family. That’s when we become fully conscious of the breadth of nuclearism today, of its criminal character… I would not even know how to explain. It’s like a whole population has been condemned. That’s why I often speak of a poison. I feel as though I have poison in my veins. That’s why I say that the greatness of France is in our flesh, it is in our blood, it is in our genes. When will it stop? When will our generations no longer be ill?
Anaïs DUONG-PEDICA: It prevents life.
Hinamoeura CROSS: Exactly.
Anaïs DUONG-PEDICA: You also spoke about the fact that being a mother is what drives you because you do this for children. I would like to go back to something you said at the beginning of this interview. You also speak about other political topics such as the protection of local employment, as well as the recognition of Indigenous languages. We will now listen to an audio clip from a recent interview you gave to Radio Tefana, which I think will resonate with many of our listeners since the situation you describe seems so similar to the one we have in Kanaky/New Caledonia.
Hinamoeura CROSS (audio clip from August 2022): I would like to tell them to stop devaluing themselves in relation to popa’a, to continue to study, because for too long we have been under the yoke of colonialism. As colonised people, we have this syndrome of inferiority in relation to white people. So I study a lot to show that we’re not ignorant. We’re no longer those who have let things happen to us decades ago. So wake up, we have to study, we have to commit ourselves to our country and trust our people. We need to resist all these taken-for-granted assumptions we have about Polynesians, that they do not want to work, or this and that. Especially today, since I think I’m not the only one to have noticed that we are being invaded. I am shocked to see the number, but it is hundreds that come every month and who have already found a job or who find a job within a week. I want to denounce this because it’s a whole community of Metropolitan expats who have come this year or last year and who support each other, give each other ideas to find jobs, start businesses… On top of this, let’s not kid ourselves: it is much easier for popa’a with administration, so they manage to apply for things, find financial support, get state land… So Tahitians need to wake up and see what’s going on. They’re taking our jobs. I want to say they’re stealing our jobs, but I cannot say this because they are within their rights to do that. They are making baskets, local produce… Here at the market, there is cheese, and it’s not a Polynesian who makes this cheese. I admit that with my husband, we are grocery shopping but we do not go to random stalls. If we have to give our money, we give our money to a Polynesian family. I get my lemonade from Polynesians, while next to them, there are Metropolitans who make lemonade. I think that’s enough. We need to think beyond buying locally, to think about buying Mā’ohi. We should have a Mā’ohi label. Today we have Metropolitan seamstresses who just arrived, we have Metropolitans who just arrived who make jewellery, papaya jams… So Tahitians, Polynesians, wake up and let’s buy local and Mā’ohi.
Anaïs DUONG-PEDICA: To what extent is the political struggle for reparation in French Polynesia linked to these other colonial problems that you are speaking about?
Hinamoeura CROSS: For me, nuclearism and reparations are very much contemporary struggles, especially in relation to the support we need today. I really feel as though the State is abandoning us with all our illnesses caused by radiation, with Mururoa and Fangataufa, which are totally poisoned. So if I had to ask France for something, beyond limiting Metropolitan arrivals, it would be to have a healthcare system that corresponds to our needs. I am still shocked that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of Polynesians that still have to go to Paris for their treatment. I am lucky to be able to get treatment in Tahiti because that’s a type of leukemia that can be treated here, but that’s not the case for a lot of Polynesians. Given what we went through, we should have a hospital capable of treating all the illnesses caused by radiation. On top of this, we have Polynesians who do not even speak French who are sent to France on their own and who are condemned to die in Paris. How do you want them to communicate that they’re in pain or that they’re unwell? For me, that is terrible. Then, France needs to recognise all these illnesses, pay us back all the costs and budget billions for health costs to come.
I know that thanks to nuclear testing, France is a world power, and gets so much money, billions of euros every year but thanks to whom? Thanks to whom have their reached this position as a nuclear world power? It’s thanks to Algerians and French Polynesia, with all the nuclear testing they have done in our countries. That’s why, for me, I see myself in the pro-independence party, because we’re not scared to challenge France and we’re not scared to say there are too many French people in our country. It was important for me to popularise this debate because many people called us racists… A lot of people got to know me through a video where I was talking about this, in which I explained that it was not racism. We have to stop saying that we’re racists. I feel as though people are stealing my culture, to then sell it. And while I don’t put all Metropolitans in the same basket, many of them are here in Polynesia to make money off our backs because we’re a kind and welcoming people… Just look at our history of nuclearism: they used to bomb us and we used to crown them and dance for them, as they were poisoning us. And then we had to say thank you and sing the Marseillaise (the French national hymn). For me, a lot of people who are arriving still have this colonial mentality in relation to the ‘kind Polynesians’. They start by learning our recipes, then they capitalise on it.[v]
Last time I went to print my business cards, and then… Because you can tell when they just arrived in Polynesia, you can tell physically, you can tell by their accent, you can tell by how they dress… And I hear ‘yeah I want a tiare and a tiki on our card because it looks more local.’ This kind of behaviour frustrates me and that’s not racism. They want to be integrated on their own terms, when they feel like it, in order to get information, benefit from us, but in the end, we’re still in a relation of coloniser/colonised. They also support each other a lot and that is why I wanted to tell my people, our Polynesian people. Because we’ve been very jealous of each other amongst Polynesians, we’re preventing each other from doing things, while Metropolitans are like a mafia supporting each other. That’s why more and more of them are coming. Polynesia is becoming an El Dorado where they can come make money and we’re left out. Unfortunately, at the moment, we have a government that helps them because it serves the interests of the State. All the while we are spectators of all this. That’s why for me the objective is for the pro-independence party to win the territorial elections next year.
Anaïs DUONG-PEDICA: Yes, that is what you were saying, the struggle is not over. It’s not because there are three pro-independence deputies at the National Assembly that it is over.
Hinamoeura CROSS: Yes, the biggest fight is yet to come.
Anaïs DUONG-PEDICA: Could you tell us about your experience as a woman activist? Have you struggled as a woman political activist? In your experience do women play an important role within anti-colonial and anti-nuclear movements in Mā’ohi Nui?
Hinamoeura CROSS: At first, I was not aware of my status as a woman. It is when I started to be an activist and started to become known that I realised it. I had never been a feminist. For example, I thought it was ridiculous that we had a Women’s Day. I didn’t understand feminists because I felt like they were contributing to saying that we were inferior. So I was closed to it. Then, I started realising women’s position when I began to go to meetings, when we were faced with men and we had the impression that we were not allowed to speak or that we had nothing to say, or that we should not have ideas. That’s when I became a feminist and became aware that I always have to prove that I can do something, that I’m not just good at cooking, and that I need to impose my ideas. That was not easy. Even though in my videos people could perceive a certain kind of courage and strength, it’s just the video. In real life, I’m not someone who seeks conflict, I don’t speak up and I’m quite discrete. But that’s when I realised that I must speak up, and I have to be, as we say, a ballsy woman. I’m learning to see that. I’m saddened when I see that I’m being relegated to being an ornament, that frustrates me. However, I have not reached a stage where I denounce it. I’m just observing. Although now I understand better women who want to speak up.
Actually, I’m happy because a lot of the support I receive is from women. I’m happy to represent this kind of activist woman because there have been a lot of people around me who have inspired me, whether they were Polynesians… Or Aimé Césaire also, as well as other researchers. Actually, my husband and I have paintings in our living room, one painting on nuclear testing, one painting on Polynesian pride, and below I have all those who inspire my speeches such as Bruno Barillot, who has done a lot for nuclearism to be acknowledged in Polynesia, there is Aimé Césaire, there is Pouvanaa a Oopa, there is John Teariki, Polynesian politician, there is Henri Hiro, Polynesian philosopher and thinker… And I realised that there aren’t any women. And that’s true because while our society before colonisation was matriarchal, it has become patriarchal. That’s why we need to change things and it’s starting a little bit. But for now, I think that if there are women in government it’s only because we have the gender parity law, otherwise I don’t think it would be the case. There still are a lot of men [that are patriarchal]… Not my dad, I’ve grown up in a very open family. But things need to continue to evolve. I am proud today to represent this figure of a strong activist woman because on the side, I also have a job, a child, I clean, I cook, of course I have a husband who helps tremendously and who supports me but one can be a female activist and also fulfil one’s responsibilities when it comes to family.
Anaïs DUONG-PEDICA: What are your hopes for the future?
Hinamoeura CROSS: I’m about to repeat myself but I really want the pro-independence party to win the territorial elections next year because I think this would give us the tools to advance our struggles. Otherwise, it would be to continue to work towards awareness raising with the Polynesian people. I don’t expect that people will become pro-independence, but at least that we stop being passive and feeling inferior to the State. That’s very difficult because even myself, sometimes, I don’t manage to impose myself. I’ll think: ’he’s white so he’s smarter than me’ or things like that. The aim is for Polynesia to belong to Polynesians. What’s terrible at the moment is that we are not even managing to house ourselves, we cannot even buy land. So Polynesians are more and more losing their culture and their way of living, so the aim is to recover a Polynesia for Polynesians.
Anaïs DUONG-PEDICA: Thank you so much. On these last words, I’d like to thank you for having accepted to do an interview with La Pause Décoloniale. It was a genuine pleasure to speak with you and listen to your answers.
Hinamoeura CROSS: Thank you very much Anaïs and thank you for your questions which were really interesting and indeed, I think we have a lot in common.
Roselyne MAKALU: Mauruuru Hinamoeura and Anaïs for this discussion which genuinely revives the collective memory of one of the large-scale human tragedy, a ‘crime against humanity’ committed by France, a colonial military power, which carried out 193 nuclear tests in Mā’ohi Nui between 1966 and 1996. That is 30 years of tests. It was not an experiment, to test a product and its dangers, we are speaking of a crime against humanity since those who organised and carried out these tests were fully aware of the risks associated with the toxicity of radiation. This means that the struggle is not over for Mā’ohi people. Hinamoeura like other activists before her and her current comrades in struggle are fighting for the full recognition of this prejudice, for reparation that matches the consequences of the nuclear tests. France is indebted to the Mā’ohi people and, more generally, to its colonies. Hinamoeura leads a just fight, for truth, for justice, for the respect and dignity of a people.
Mauruuru Hinamoeura, Oléti Anaïs for this interview which really moved me personally and reinforced the importance of speaking up again and again, not being silent, not being afraid to denounce injustice. Finally, to close this edition, we cannot forget the news: we are after all in a global context of tension and war, with major states that are getting ready to counter China’s threatening position. Beyond having had the satisfaction and pride of having had the Kanaky flag flying in Washington during the Pacific Islands Forum organised by President Biden, the question I ask myself is: what is our position, here at home, on militarisation? Are we fully aware of the stakes at play especially as our future depends on them?
This is the end of this 17th edition which theme was ‘anti-nuclear activism in Mā’ohi Nui’. Thanks to Radio Djiido for broadcasting this edition, and to La Pause Décoloniale team for producing this episode. In the meantime, be well and as is said in Mā’ohi Nui… Faaitoito, Courage.
[i] In Le pays du non-dit, Louis-José Barbançon writes that in New Caledonia “the unsaid is an institution, a constant […] which is unavoidable.” He describes New Caledonia as “the country of the unsaid,” referring to historical concealment of painful moments and the dismissal encountered in acknowledging this history.
[ii] In France, the health care system is the responsibility of the State. This means that “[t]he State directly finances and organises the delivery of healthcare and social services” (CLEISS 2021). However, in 1977, French Polynesia received a new status within France to give more administrative and financial autonomy to the territory. This means that there is a decentralisation of Metropolitain responsibility and that specific administrative and financial responsibilities are then transferred to the territory.
[iii] In Mā’ohi Nui, autonomist parties are those political parties which are against independence. For example, Édouard Fritch, the President of French Polynesia and Lana Tetuanui, the senator which Hinamoeura mentioned, are members of the Tāpura huira’atira, which is an autonomist party.
[iv] By “protest vote”, Hinamoeura suggests that people voted to protest the power in place. In French Polynesia, the Government is led by the Tāpura huira’atira party and two of the previous MPs were from the Tāpura huira’atira. That is to say that while it is important to recognise the success of the pro-independence party Tavini Huiraatira at the MP election, it is also important to recognise that some people did not necessarily vote for the Tavini but against the power in place.
[v] Here, Hinamoeura is referring to French settlers’ practices of learning Mā’ohi skills and knowledges and making money off of them. She gives the example of Mā’ohi recipes, when the food made from them may then be sold at the market. In the next paragraph, she mentions settlers’ capitalisation of what they perceive as being “local” in order to make themselves more “local” and promote their business.