TOKELAUANS IN SAMOA HEAR REFERENDUM UPDATE

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By Filo Tuuga and Marianive Sulutolu

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Feb. 28) - A high-powered delegation from Tokelau was in Samoa last week to meet with the Tokelau community in Samoa.

The meeting was [concerning] the second self-determination referendum scheduled for November.

[PIR editor’s note: Tokelau, a territory of New Zealand; is located about 300 miles north of Samoa. The low-lying island group, which includes the three atolls of Atafu, Fakaofo,

and Nukunonu, has a total population of about 1,400. Tokelau and New Zealand have agreed to a draft constitution as Tokelau moves toward free association with New Zealand; a UN sponsored referendum on self-governance, in February 2006, did not produce the two thirds majority vote necessary for changing the current political status]

Mr. Kolouei O'Brien, Head of the Tokelau delegation, said they were here to talk about the referendum and other important matters for the development of Tokelau.

O'Brien said despite a 60 percent vote in favor of the self-determination proposal last year, the referendum failed to get the two-thirds majority required for it to succeed.

He said this was why they have traveled to Tokelau communities because they believe most people did not vote.

He said the Tokelau community in Samoa agreed to the second referendum.

O'Brien said if Tokelauan people who live in other countries want to take part in the second referendum, they must live in Tokelau for three months before the vote.

"One of the key things it offers Tokelau is the freedom to make its own decisions and seek foreign aid from overseas countries," he said.

Sakaria Patelesio, Director of the Tokelau Affairs office here, is an advocate of the Referendum.

He believes there are positive implications for Tokelau if they decide to move with it.

"Personally, I don't think Tokelau has any other choice, what I mean by that is, becoming self-governed offers a package, you either want or not," he said.

"The question is, do the people of Tokelau want the coke or not, people have to make up their minds.

"The implications of the Referendum are clear...but it is greatly misunderstood and is seen negatively by our people, especially in New Zealand."

Patelesio believes the lack of understanding people have about the Referendum has widened the divide amongst people in Tokelau and abroad.

"It makes me question where people are getting their advice from there," he said.

A delegation of Tokelau leaders led by O'Brien has visited Hawai΄i, American Samoa and New Zealand to deliver the message of the Referendum.

"One of the key things this offers Tokelau is the freedom to make its own decisions," said Sakaria.

"We will still be closely linked with New Zealand but it means we can control our own affairs and make decisions while still in free association with New Zealand."

Tokelau people against the Referendum believe its leaders are misleading Tokelau down a track only to fulfill their own political agendas.

Several Tokelauan people spoke to the Samoa Observer on the condition their identities remained anonymous.

Three gentlemen believed Tokelau was best left as it is now.

"Why change something that has worked well for Tokelau, this is the view of many of our people in New Zealand too," one man said.

"The people behind the Referendum have been pushing the idea for some time now and still many of our people don't understand what it's all about.

"Even our young people who are eligible voters have no idea of the significance this has upon Tokelau. What does that tell you about those delivering its message?

Another man said, "I believe many Tokelau people in New Zealand disagree with the Referendum because they understand if it is successful, fettered power will be vested in a few people for their personal gain and not for Tokelau. Attempting to communicate with the Tokelau office from New Zealand is almost impossible, even to make a booking on the boat to Tokelau. Imagine trying to voice your concerns to the Ministers of Tokelau?"

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