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Tokelau (New Zealand)

formerly Union Islands

Last modified: 2008-08-09 by ian macdonald
Keywords: tokelau | new zealand | union islands | canton | stars (white) | circles 3 (broken) | palm tree (green |
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[New Zealand] image by Ralph Kelly, 16 June 2008

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Presentation about Tokelau

The following information is from the US Department of the Interior on islands of disputed sovereignty in the 20th century. The document appears to be from early 1998, so there may be some changes. The US relinquished claims to 3 atolls in the Union (Tokelau) Islands in a treaty signed December 2, 1980 between the United States and New Zealand. The treaty, signed in Atufu Atoll was effective September 3, 1983. These atolls were: Atafu, Fafaofu and Nukunono.
Phil Nelson
, 27 April 2000

Summarized from the CIA World Factbook:

A group of three atolls in the South Pacific Ocean, about one-half of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand, with an area of 10 sq km and a population of ca. 1,458. Originally settled by Polynesian emigrants from surrounding island groups, the Tokelau Islands were made a British protectorate in 1889. They were transferred to New Zealand administration in 1925 (...), administered under the Tokelau Islands Act of 1948, as amended in 1970. The Tokelau Amendment Act of 1996 confers legislative power on the unicameral General Fono. Dependency status: territory of New Zealand. The Queen and New Zealand are represented by an Administrator. Tokelauans are drafting a constitution, developing institutions and patterns of self-government as Tokelau moves toward free association with New Zealand.
Santiago Dotor, 26 January 2001

2008 Flag

The Tokelau Bulletin ( reports on the new flag, but notes that the decision has to be approved by the NZ goverment and the Queen of NZ.
Dean McGee, 3 June 2008

Text of the announcement:
1.1 Hoorayyyyyyyyy! At last, we have our own national symbols! In its May 2008 sitting, the General Fono finally decided on Tokelau's national symbols. The General Fono considered recommendations on the flag, symbol and national anthem. A decision was made in regard to the flag and the national symbol as shown below. While this is a landmark decision, our legal team has advised that the Government of New Zealand needs to be formally notified of the decision. The Queen as the Head of State of the Realm of New Zealand will also need to be advised. While this might take some time, the request from the legal team is to await all formalities to be finalised before we can actually use or convey this decision to the Tokelau communities overseas. The General Fono also agreed to give an opportunity to the winner of the anthem competition to improve his version of the anthem, to work closely with the Council for the Ongoing Government and to submit contribution to the next General Fono."
Ben Cahoon, 13 June 2008

Flag until 2008

[New Zealand] image by António Martins and Željko Heimer

Until the 2008 introduction of a distinctive flag for Tokelau, the flag of New Zealand was used.

Unofficial 1989 Proposal

[Unofficial 1989 proposal (Tokelau)] image by Mark Sensen

As far as I know, the blue flag of Tokelau is only a proposal made for some sport event in 1980's. The official flag should be the New Zealand one.
Jan Zrzavy
, 4 March 1998

The Flags of Paradise 1996 chart shows the blue flag for Tokelau with the broken yellow rings (a coral atoll with two entrances?) and the caption, "Tokelau Islands NZ Territory circa 1989-present (unofficial)". I suspect they are close enough to the scene to know that the flag is in actual use.
John Ayer
, 5 March 1998

Jos Poels told me some years ago he had contacted the authorities on Tokelau, and they confirmed the flag is not adopted officially.
Mark Sensen
, 13 April 1999

Humberto Brumatti, a Tokelau-fan from Argentina visited FOTW and e-mailed me. I asked him for further information on the officialness of the flag (tk.gif) and its appearance or not on Tokelau stamps. This is his answer, abridged and translated:

Tokelau is undergoing an institutional change process where the UN plays a role. Its 1500 inhabitants, 10 and no important income source (as is the case with Nauru) make impossible its independence from New Zealand, and the islanders are very comfortable with the current situation, with which they assume more self-determination rights in political issues, while New Zealand covers its broad economical deficit and absorbs constant immigration originating in a population excess.

Up to the last Report of the Administrator of Tokelau for the year ended 30 June 1997 (published almost one [two?] and a half years [sic] later), no indication exists on the approval of a flag of their own.

Post stamps were issued up to the early nineties by the New Zealand Post, who in 1988 issued a series of stamps in one of which appeared the New Zealand flag. Later on, the issuing authority was assumed by the Office for the Tokelau Affairs, based up to recently at Apia (Western Samoa) and currently at Tokelau. I have even the most recently issued stamps, and none of them shows the flag in question.

Consulting the Office is useless. When it was managed by a New Zealand official, they kindly supplied any requested information and they even had an excellent periodical magazine, but since the islanders took over they have greatly neglected this important aspect of their [public] relations.

Santiago Dotor, 23 November 1999

When I visited the atolls in 1983 that the only flag visible was that of New Zealand.
Christopher Vance
, 19 August 2000

I have seen the Tokelau flag used at New Zealand's national museum (Te Papa Tongarewa, in Wellington), displayed in their Pacific Hall, but I am very doubtful of whether it is used by the islanders themselves.
James Dignan
, 16 December 2003

A web page at implies there is a desire to develop an identifying flag.
Paraskevas Renesis, 16 August 2004

I have never heard of the Tokelau flag actually being used in the islands. When NZ's prime minister Helen Clark visited the islands two weeks ago, only the NZ flag was visible in news reports (although this unofficial flag was used during TVNZ coverage of the visit in its in-studio captions). Tokelau is one of the territories that continually worries the UN by overwhelmingly refusing independence. I think the last poll on the issue found about 95% of the adult population wishing to remain as an overseas territory of New Zealand.
James Dignan, 17 August 2004

At this semi-official website for one of Tokelau's three atolls, the flag is used as the link marker for the Tokelauan language page. The fact that there is no text implies that the local webpage users would recognize the flag (placed below the New Zealand flag that links to the English language page).
Michael K. Renalds, 9 November 2004

According to the report of the 11th session (morning) of the Decolonization Committee of the United Nations, published as press release AG/COL/3125 on 24 June 2005, Tokelau and New Zealand progress in the elaboration of a free association treaty. The Committee has acknowledged that the people of Tokelau firmly want to gain autonomy and the promulgation of a self-determination act. The Committee was pleased about the progress achieved this year, especially the transfer of power from the Administrator to the three Village Councils. The Committee also noticed the progress towards the adoption of a Constitution and national symbols for Tokelau and the elaboration of a free-association treaty between Tokelau and New Zealand. Ulu-o-Tokelau (Chief of Tokelau) Pio Tuia invited the Committee to visit Tokelau and gave more details on the process leading to self-determination. The design of a national anthem, flag and symbol is scheduled for November 2005. Pio Tuia stated that the people of Tokelau don't want independence but a free-association. The Administrator of Tokelau, Neil Walter, confirmed Pio Tuia's statements and gave more details to the New Zealand contribution to the economical development of Tokelau.
Source: (French version; the report is probably available in other languages).
Ivan Sache, 2 July 2005

2006-07 competition and introduction of the 2008 flag

A referendum was to be held in the territory of Tokelau on 13 February 2006. The option was for or against a self-governing free association status with New Zealand.
Juan Manuel Villascan, 9 February 2006

There is a flag issue in the self-determination referendum in Tokelau. The agency SBS gave details on the referendum on 13 February 2006, with the following sentence on the flag: "A competition is being held for a flag and national anthem and symbol to be adopted if the referendum is passed."
Ivan Sache, 13 February 2006

Although there were more votes for the proposal (Tokelau becoming a self-governing state in free association with NZ) 349 (232 against) a 2/3 majority was needed for the proposal to be accepted. It remains to be seen if there will be a flag after the rejection of the proposal. The original deadline for the entries (for the flag, emblem and anthem competition) was Oct 15, 2004 but then it was extended until Nov 30, 2004. The final decision should have been taken (according to Tokelau's official website at by General Fono by the end of May 2005. But there have been no updates for this matter for many months now.
P. Renesis, 16 February 2006

In response to an inquiry I received the reply:

Tokelau's National Symbols Competition for flags, anthem and symbols started in 2004 and have continued up to now 2006. The entries for flags, anthem and symbols were closed in August 31 2005. The Tokelau National Symbol Committee met in October 2005 to finalise the flags, anthem and symbols and prepare a report on the finalists for the General Fono's considerations.

Regarding the flags, there were 123 flags entries received for the flag competition and the National Symbol Committee of Tokelau had selected only 6 flags, 3 anthems and 3 symbols and submitted them to the General Fono in November 2005 to decide the flag, anthem and symbol for Tokelau. Unfortunately, the General Fono decided to refer the 6 flags, 3 symbols and 3 anthems back to the 3 Villages of Tokelau for their view.

The General Fono will sit next month March 17 and they will decide on the flag, anthem and symbol for Tokelau.

Thank you,
Lise Hope-Suveinakama

Dean McGee, 22 February 2006

At the following info about the process of selection of the new symbols of Tokelau is available:

The August 2006 General Fono decided to re-open the Tokelau National Symbols Competition in order to give further opportunity for submissions. It was also decided that the Council for the Ongoing Government be responsible for the competition. The Council therefore agreed: that the competition will close on 1st April 2007; to give recommendation/s to the General Fono in its June 2007 sitting; that the guidelines and criteria approved by the General Fono in 2004 shall be the same used for this round of the competition. They are:

  • criteria for the Flag: must reflect Tokelau's history, environment with a focus to the future; (must include the Tokelau culture and Christianity) must be simple
  • criteria for the National Anthem: must reflect Tokelau's history, environment with a focus to the future; (must include the Tokelau culture and Christianity) must be under 2 minutes long; and must be harmonious and make one feel proud to be Tokelauan.
  • criteria for National Symbol: must be unique to Tokelau; must be lively, a symbol which originates from the myths and legends of Tokelau.
It is important that the lyrics and notes to the anthem are provided and copied to a tape or a CD so that it can be played back. All entries must reach the Office of the Council for the Ongoing Government in Apia no later then 1 April 2007.

Ivan Sache, 7 March 2007

From Tokelau's Government official site, Bulletin Jun 19, 2007:
"After a long wait of 4 years, the General Fono has finally decided on the national symbols of Tokelau. These will be posted on the website in the near future"
Paraskevas Renesis, 30 June 2007

At (Tokelau's Government official site, Bulletin Aug 23, 2007):

"As part of their meeting on Wednesday 22 August, the Council for the Ongoing Government of Tokelau listened to a revised version of the national anthem. The revised composition had kindly been undertaken by June Ryan of the June Ryan School of Music in Apia. This was greatly appreciated by the Council as was the beautiful singing by Daphne Collins. Council also viewed the revised versions of the flag and the national symbol."
But no image nor description yet.
Olivier Touzeau, 2 September 2007

 In in the latest bulletin (Sept. 20) we have at last a photo showing part of the new flag (blue/yellow with 4 (white?) stars). I have the "suspicion" that the stars are arranged the way the 3 atolls (plus Swains [Olohega]) are "positioned" in the world map!
Paraskevas Renesis, 25 September 2007

Looks like a stylised Polynesian oceangoing canoe (vaka), with sail fully hoisted. Tokelau's people often refer to their islands metaphorically as a canoe, so this would make perfect sense. Some images of these canoes can be found at The four stars intrigue me - they are in the correct positions for the four islands in the Tokelau chain - the three which make up Tokelau itself, plus one which is currently a US unincorporated territory but claimed by Tokelau.
James Dignan, 25 September 2007

Since the referendum on free association with NZ failed back in October, it seems a new flag is, for now, off the table.
Joshua Holman, 11 December 2007