Last Updated: Friday, 02 October 2015, 13:27 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Cook Islands : Overview

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2007
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Cook Islands : Overview, 2007, available at: [accessed 4 October 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


The fifteen Cook Islands, the northern group of which are coral atolls and the southern group are of volcanic origin, have a small population spread over an area of more than a million square kilometres. The islands are particularly prone to cyclones.


Main languages: Cook Islands Maori, English

Main religions: Christianity (mainly Cook Islands Christian Church)

Cook Islanders are Polynesians. Other than a small number of contract workers, mainly from New Zealand and more recently from Fiji working in the tourist industry, there are no minority groups in the Cook Islands.

More than half the Cook Islander population now live on the main island of Rarotonga and most other islands have declining populations. Rather more than half of all Cook Islanders live overseas, mostly in New Zealand, and the present national population is steadily falling.


The Cook Islands has had self-government in free association with New Zealand since 1965. They are not a member of the United Nations, although in 1995 they sought membership, but largely make and implement their own foreign policy. Despite the significance of tourism, the economy is largely supported by New Zealand aid and also by remittances, but government deficits have been common.


Cook Islands has a Parliament of 25 seats and political parties are of some importance though not distinguished by ideology. Politicians frequently change parties and allegiances and governments rarely last long. The 21-member upper House of Ariki (hereditary chiefs) has advisory powers only but some influence in cultural affairs. Islands have island councils and local vaka (district) councils.

Governments have changed frequently in recent years. Despite some occasional concerns over limits to sovereignty, the Cook Islanders have not sought full independence (preferring substantial aid from, and freedom of migration to, New Zealand).

Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples

Migration has reduced the use of the Cook Islands Maori language but it has now become part of the educational curriculum. Other than short term migrant workers, and some European residents, there are no minority groups

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