40 Years Anniversary for the Cook Islands Constitution Day – Porirua, Wellington

  • Taito Phillip Field
Pacific Island Affairs

Kia Orana kaotou katoatoa ite aroa maata (Formal Greeting to you all and everyone who is present) talofa lava, kia ora kotou katoa and warm Pacific greetings to you all.
I would like to acknowledge the representative leaders of the Wellington Region Cook Island Associations Mata Arai, David Isaia and Matua Cummings, Acting High Commissioner for the Cook Islands her excellency Sonya Kamana, Reverend Ministers, my parliamentary colleague and MP for Mana Luamanuvao Winne Laban, ladies and gentlemen. May I extend to you the apologies of the Prime Minister Rt Hon Helen Clark.
I am delighted to be here as the government representative and I am honoured to be part of the Cook Island Community’s 40 years celebration of self-government in free association with New Zealand.
Our relationship between our two countries goes back for more than 100 years.
One of the early official landmarks in our countries’ relationship was the voyage in 1900 by the New Zealand Premier Sir Richard Seddon and a party of family, friends and officials to Tonga, Niue, Fiji and the Cooks Islands. Followed by the petition by the Cook Islands people to the Governor of New Zealand to be Annexed to the British Empire as part of New Zealand.
Only a few years later, a contingent of young Cooks Island men served in the Great War on the Western Front doing their part to defend freedom in the War to end all Wars. Sadly despite their efforts and the efforts of many men and women, conflicts around the world still continue to this day. As we have seen through the terrorist attacks in recent times, we must be ever vigilant against those who would threaten the safety of our way of life.
Through the Pacific Islands Forum, which includes the Cook Islands and New Zealand we have recognised the need to increase regional security and we will do everything in our power to keep the Pacific region safe.
But tonight is an evening for celebration.
New Zealand and the Cook Islands have enjoyed a strong and warm relationship which pre-dates the relatively recent 40 years celebration of Cook Islands self-government from 1965.
Over the years New Zealand has enjoyed the talents of many Cook Island people in the sciences, sports and the performing arts. Former High Commissioner and Prime Minister Sir Tom Davis, was at one point during his career, a NASA scientist, we have all enjoyed the talents of music artists such as Annie Crummer, Junior Rikiau, and David Atai of Nesian Mystic and Artist/Designer Ane O’Neil.

In business, many New Zealanders have benefited from the business expertise of the high profile Mike Pero, and business consultant Hamish Crooks on the Board of the Pacific Business Trust which aims to encourage and support more Pacific people into their own businesses. In the Public Service there are many Cook Island people such as Adrian Orr a Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank working for the benefit of all New Zealanders, in Auckland, Pukapukan Nuku Rapana chairs the Pacific Advisory group for the Auckland Regional Economic Development Strategy (AREDS).

Within the PASIFIKA Women’s organisation, one of New Zealand’s oldest national Pacific organisations, Cook Island women have been prominent leaders with Jean Mitaera as a past National President. In local government, here in Porirua, we have witnessed the passion and commitment of the late Jasmine Underhill who served her people for many years as Deputy Mayor of Porirua.

And on the sports field with Cook Island people such as Silver Fern Margaret Matenga, the Iro brothers, Kevin and Tony Iro and Matt Rua in the New Zealand Kiwis and from the New Zealand World Cup winning Sevens team, Matua Parkinson.

In short Cook Island people are succeeding and contributing to New Zealand’s success in all walks of life.

The magical musical beat of the Cook Island drums, are something that has become synonymous with New Zealand’s Pacific identity wherever we hear them in the world. At this point I would like to acknowledge the sterling work of the Whitireia Performing Arts group and one of the driving forces behind them, educator Tuaine Robati. Over the past few years Tuaine and his team have taken many students from Whitireia to share their cultures, extend their own life experience through performances in Europe, Spain, the United States and China. Just this year they accompanied my colleagues Hon Phil Goff and Luamanuvao Winnie Laban to French Polynesia and Rapanui.

It is appropriate that tonight we celebrate all the achievements of the Cook Islands people, people who travelled the vast distances of the Pacific ocean.

You have much to be proud of.

However with our closeness there have come unforeseen issues and challenges such as the relative de-population of the Cooks Islands and the vulnerable state of the Cook Islands language.

The vulnerability of the Cook Islands language is one of three Pacific languages in New Zealand – these are Niue, Tokelau and Cook Island Languages.

The seriousness of this is illustrated by figures from the 2001 Census that show that for those New Zealand-born people of Pacific descent who are able to hold an everyday language in their original Pacific language for Niuean it was 15 percent Niueans, for Tokelau 29 percent and for the Cook Islands only 5 percent were able to speak the Cook Island Language.

In this area, for the protection and maintenance of the Cook Islands language, the Government has a number of initiatives. The Ministry of Education has been publishing teaching resources in Cook Island language for many years since 1950. More recently Units for the teaching of Cook Island Maori were registered on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework.

Last year the Minister of Education, Hon Trevor Mallard launched “Cook Island Maori in the New Zealand Curriculum”, as guidelines for the teaching of Cook Island in New Zealand from Early Childhood Education to Year 13.

The Cook Islands has given New Zealand its greatest gift, the energy and creativity of its people. While there are now 52,600 people of Cook Island people descent living in New Zealand (i.e. 23 percent of New Zealand’s Pacific population) and only 18,000 living in the Cook Islands.

New Zealand has recognised that it has some degree of responsibility to support the ongoing existence of the Cook Islands as an independent nation.

As part of helping to address the issue of skills shortage in the Cooks Islands, the New Zealand government has allowed for the exchange and secondment of Public servants to and from the Cook Islands within the New Zealand Public Service.

I said earlier that the Cook Island people have much to be proud of.
It is my hope that in 10 years time, when the Cook Islands celebrates its 50th Anniversary of self-government in free association with New Zealand that we see the continuing development of the Cook Island Maori language, as we have done with the Maori language in New Zealand.
Tonight I wish you well in your celebrations.
Kia manuia te atua aroa (Formal God’s blessings and thank you to you all)