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Tokelau (New Zealand)

formerly Union Islands

Last modified: 2022-10-14 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 Zach Harden, 21 June 2010

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Description of the flag

A blue flag with a yellow stylised Tokelauan canoe in full sail, with in the space near the hoist a southern cross of four small white five-pointed stars.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 30 May 2010

A more extensive description is provided by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade:

Friday, 02 October 2009 09:56 NZDT
Tokelau's flag and national symbol

Tokelau's Flag depicts a Tokelauan canoe sailing towards the manu (Southern Cross). The canoe symbolises Tokelau's journey towards finding the best governance structure for its people; the Southern Cross symbolises a navigational aid for the journey. The Southern Cross has helped Tokelauan fishermen navigate the waters around Tokelau for centuries while they have fished to sustain families and villages with its riches.

The white stars of the Southern Cross are a symbol of Christianity, an important part of everyday life in Tokelau. White also signifies the cooperation and unity among the atolls of Tokelau and a shared aspiration to secure a better life for Tokelauans. Yellow signifies a happy, peaceful community. Blue signifies the ocean on which Tokelauans depend for their livelihood and is also the colour of the sky which holds the stars that direct Tokelau's people.

Tokelau's flag has been under development for a number of years. In 2007 a competition was held to design a new flag and the final version, approved by Tokelau's General Fono in February this year, is based on the winning design. As is customary for official flags of the Commonwealth, the flag was granted a Royal Licence by Her Majesty the Queen in August 2009.

The official blazon (technical description in heraldic terminology) of the flag is:
"Azure a Tokelau Canoe Or in the hoist a constellation of the Southern Cross composed of four Mullets Argent." [Azure = blue; Or = gold or yellow; Argent = silver, but normally shown as white]

Tokelau received its first official flag from the Governor-General, Hon Sir Anand Satyanand, at Government House on 7 September.
Cai Zhenyuan, 30 May 2010

The precise appearance of this flag has been uncertain. Early reports showed it with the waka (canoe) extending from hoist to fly and top to bottom as shown in this image (by Cai Zhenyuan, 7 June 2008).

A video at shows the raising of the first flag in New Zealand.
Paraskevas Renesis, 20 June 2010

Ms. Megan Birnie from the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade stated to me that there is no present construction sheet for the Tokelau flag, but she did give me this:
Colours (Pantone scale): Background - Blue (280 as used on the New Zealand flag); Sail - yellow (109); Stars of the Southern Cross - white
Flag size: 1.8 m by 0.9 m (or length twice the width)
The proportions of the stars should follow the exact proportions of the Southern Cross as it appears on the New Zealand flag.
Zach Harden, 21 June 2010


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

2008/09 Flag

The Tokelau Bulletin ( reports on the new flag, but notes that the decision has to be approved by the NZ government 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

Tuesday, 8 September 2009, 8:32 am, Press Release: Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Tokelau flag presented by the Governor-General
The Tokelau flag was officially presented by the Governor-General Hon Sir Anand Satyanand, to the Ulu o Tokelau (Titular Head of Government), Aliki Faipule Foua Toloa at a ceremony held at Government House, Wellington, this afternoon (Monday).
Cai Zhenyuan, 26 September 2009

The Office of the [New Zealand] Administrator for Tokelau let me know:
Tokelau will be launching it's first official flag on Monday 19 October on all three of its atolls. The flag will also be raised in the New Zealand parliament on Tuesday 20 October. Effectively this is the same day as New Zealand is one day ahead of Tokelau.
You can find a link to the official blazon and the lay description of the flag on the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade website. Please note that prior to 19 October, the flag will not have been officially launched.
Jos Poels, 7 October 2009

The official inauguration of the Tokelau flag has been delayed until 21 October, I was informed by the Administrator. It was originally scheduled for the 19th of October. I wasn't given a reason.
Jos Poels, 15 October 2009

 New flag for Tokelau flies at Parliament 15:36 October 22, 2009
Press Release – New Zealand Labour Party

22 October 2009 History made as new flag for Tokelau flies at Parliament Today marks a historic occasion. It is the first time the Tokelauan flag has flown at Parliament in Wellington. Today marks a historic occasion. It is the first time the Tokelauan flag has flown at Parliament in Wellington. Labour Pacific MP’s Luamanuvao Winnie Laban, Su’a William Sio and Carmel Sepuloni celebrated the event together on the Parliamentary forecourt.

“The flag, which received the Queen’s approval in August, is Tokelau’s first flag, and will replace the New Zealand Flag, previously used to represent Tokelau on the international stage,” Labour’s Spokesperson for Pacific Island Affairs, Luamanuvao Winnie Laban said.

The flag was formally presented to Tokelau’s leaders by the Governor General on 7 September. It is azure blue with a stylised Tokelauan canoe in full sail in yellow, and a silver Southern Cross.

“The Southern Cross remains as a symbol of Tokelau’s relationship with New Zealand and its role in navigation, so important in Tokelau’s past. The canoe symbolises Tokelau’s collective journey into a sustainable and viable future in a uniquely Pacific way, while the azure blue represents the ocean, so important in sustaining Tokelau.

“This is a hugely important day for Tokelau and the Tokelauan community,” Ms Laban said.

“I wish to congratulate the Government of Tokelau, including the Ulu o Tokelau Aliki Faipule Foua Toloa, and the Tokelauan people. I hope that their wonderful new flag will be a great source of pride,” Ms Laban said.

located by Chrystian Kretowicz, 22 October 2009

2006-07 competition and introduction of the 2008/09 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

Flag until 2008/09

[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.