Tokelau: a sprinkling of atolls
Lying midway between New Zealand and Hawaii, Tokelau’s three populated atolls – Atafu, Fakaofo and Nukunonu – are mere specks in the Pacific. Their habitable land area is about the size of a small New Zealand town.
Tokelau has been administered by New Zealand since 1925. In 1948 the Tokelau Islands Act married the two nations: New Zealand annexed Tokelau, and Tokelauans received New Zealand citizenship.
1950s–1960s: first arrivals
Culturally, the 10 Tokelauans recorded in the 1951 New Zealand census were probably more Samoan than Tokelauan. Until the early 1960s most migrants came via Samoa, sending back earnings so that others could follow.
From 1963 the government offered scholarships, helping 186 students to study in New Zealand between 1963 and 1982. Although they were expected to return, most remained after their education.
Ten young women arrived in January 1963 as the first government-assisted migrants. Early assistance was not yet a formal scheme; support was offered to unmarried people on a trial basis. Over the next two years 42 more single Tokelauans followed.
In the mid-1960s the government was concerned that Tokelau’s population of 1,900 was too high for the small islands, so it widened the scope of assisted passage to include family groups. Migration increased after a tropical cyclone in 1966 damaged the islands.
From 1966 to 1967 the New Zealand government formalised its policy to assist Tokelauan immigration. Under the Tokelau Islands Resettlement Scheme 70 migrants arrived. They worked for two years at nominated jobs, repaying government resettlement grants. Women were employed by hospitals as live-in domestics, while men joined the timber industry.
Between 1966 and 1974, 60 families were resettled, mainly in Taupō and Rotorua where workers were needed in the forest industry. After a few years many had moved to Porirua, where a large Tokelauan community was forming.
When the scheme was suspended in 1976, 528 people had been resettled. Just as many had arrived without any government assistance.
Immigration decreased after 1976; the subsequent growth in population was due to a high birth rate. About 2.5% of Pacific peoples in New Zealand were Tokelauan in 2006. In 1976 there were already more in New Zealand than in Tokelau. By 2013 there were 7,175 people of Tokelauan ethnicity in New Zealand, compared to 1,383 living on the islands.