Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Tokelau

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2007
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Tokelau, 2007, available at: [accessed 29 May 2016]
Comments In October 2015, MRG revised its World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. For the most part, overview texts were not themselves updated, but the previous 'Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples' rubric was replaced throughout with links to the relevant minority-specific reports, and a 'Resources' section was added. Refworld entries have been updated accordingly.
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.


Tokelau is the smallest political entity (after the Pitcairn Islands) in Oceania. Its land area is just 12 square kilometres on the three low-lying atolls of Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo. It is 480 kilometres north of Samoa and only accessible by sea.


New Zealand has been Tokelau's administering power since 1925, after the islands were colonised by the United Kingdom as a British protectorate from 1889.

Tokelau is listed as a non-self-governing territory with the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation and is the last of New Zealand's dependent territories to vote on its political status.


Main language: Tokelauan

Main religions: Christianity (Roman Catholicism and Congregational)

Tokelau has a Polynesian population, with less that 1,500 people living on the three atolls. There are no minority populations in Tokelau. More than half of all Tokelauans are established residents of New Zealand, and all Tokelauans are citizens of New Zealand, but the island populations are more or less stable.


In 1993, the Council of Faipule was established as a Cabinet-style structure, to operate when Tokelau's General Fono (parliament) is not in session. Since 1996, the General Fono has had the power to make rules for peace, order and good government in Tokelau. Following electoral reforms in January 1999, the General Fono's 21 delegates are elected by universal suffrage for a term of three years. The Fono includes the Faipule (customary leader) and the Pulenuku (village mayor) of each of Tokelau's three atolls.

Since 2003, the Council of Faipule was extended into the Council for the Ongoing Government of Tokelau and is now composed of the three Faipule and three Pulenuku. The chair of the Council rotates between Faipule from the three widely separated atolls that make up the small island nation: each Faipule serves in rotation for one year as the Ulu o Tokelau or titular leader.

The Tokelau economy is almost entirely dependent on New Zealand aid and on remittances. Some administration remains based in Apia in Samoa because of the fragmentation of the territory, poor links between the atolls and some social tensions between them. In a United Nations sponsored referendum in February 2006 some 60 per cent of the population voted for self-government, which would have made Tokelau the smallest self- governing state in the world after the Vatican City, but since a two-thirds majority was required Tokelau remains a non-self-governing territory under New Zealand's administration. A further referendum is scheduled in the next two years. Tokelauans are New Zealand citizens.


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