Debate: Who is a Cook Islander?

Saturday May 30, 2020 Written by Published in Weekend
Debate: Who is a Cook Islander?

Government is consulting on new immigration law changes that widen the definition of a Cook Islander – and that has set the ngiāo among the rupe.

Stephen Lyon moved to the Cook Islands with his family in 2005. He calls this piece of paradise his home.

Now, after spending 15 years serving the community through his business and involvement in non-profitable organisations like the Chamber of Commerce, Lyon wants to be accepted as one of Cook Islands’ own.

He’s not seeking any more rights than what he is currently entitled to as a permanent resident of this country.

Stephen Lyon.

He just wants to be called a Cook Islander.

The law defining a Cook Islander says, no.

According to the Cook Islands Act 1915, in words that sound strange to our ears a century later, a “native” is a person belonging to any of the Polynesian races (including the Maori race), and includes a half-caste and a person of pure descent from any such race.

This was further defined in the Entry, Residence and Departure Act 1971-72, which said a Cook Islander was an indigenous Cook Islands Polynesian, and included any person descended from an indigenous Cook Islander.

Now, that definition is being updated again, in the Immigration Bill 2020 which is undergoing public consultation.

This bill defines a Cook Islander as a person of Polynesian race, descended from an indigenous Cook Islander. It also says a child adopted by an indigenous Cook Islander in manner recognised by Cook Islands law can also be referred to as a Cook Islander.

Lyon says a Cook Islander, and an indigenous Cook Islander or Cook Islands Maori, “should be, and are in fact, legally different things”.

“Any person that is recognised as a citizen of any country is known as whatever that country is called. An American, a New Zealander, a Malaysian et cetera. It is not tied to their ethnicity.

“The fact that the Cook Islands does not officially have its own citizenship should not preclude the same recognition that the permanent residents of the Cook Islands, whether indigenous or not, be known as Cook Islanders.

“I know this is a raw topic for many people of Cook Islands Maori descent.”

Lyon says when representing the Cook Islands on the international stage, the nation is more than happy to celebrate foreign national athletes as Cook Islanders.

Generally, society also recognises many longstanding residents as “locals or Kukis”.

Lyon says that acceptance should be formalised further in Cook Islands statute.

“That is my opinion on the matter, but at the end of the day, Cook Islanders very much establish their own destiny, and that is how it should be.”

Koutu Nui, the organisation consisting of sub-chiefs, met this week to discuss the Immigration Bill – and the definition of a Cook Islander turned out to be a hotly-debated topic.

The meeting was chaired by Koutu Nui president Terea Mataiapo Paul Allsworth.

Terea Mataiapo says they need the Cook Islander definition to include direct heritage and birth right.

Koutu Nui president Terea Mataiapo Paul Allsworth. 20052943

He says references to native and indigenous would be acceptable, but Polynesian should be taken out in favour of “direct heritage or birth right to the 15 islands of Cook Islands indigenous or native to Cook Islands Maori”.

Some of the suggestions by members at the meeting included:

·         In Land Court, follow the 1915 Act that uses the term “native”. In these days it means indigenous. Papa’a cannot be a native. Don’t want to change that.

·         Native means a person belonging to Polynesian race and includes half-caste.  But this issue of including Polynesian race is important; native should perhaps be reduced to Polynesian people with Cook Islands descent from the Cook Islands.

·         Descent from parent or grandparent: in Land Court, anybody can produce genealogy and claim land. They could be descendants of someone who left 120 years ago and be approved by a JP if there are local supporters. Later on, if there is a succession order granted to somebody who has no proper blood right, this disadvantages other landowners by reducing the land available.

·         Cook Islander, as indigenous to the Cook Islands, means a person who is Cook Islands Maori.

Terea Mataiapo says they want the government to amend the definition in new bill and existing law to: “Any person who has direct heritage, genealogy and blood right to the 15 islands of the Cook Islands and who is indigenous or native as a Cook Island Maori through his or her great-grandparents.”

Terea Mataiapo says the 1915 Act is supreme – to change it requires a two-thirds majority. This is reflected in the Cook Islands Constitution, which requires a three-quarter majority for change, he adds.

A written submission by the Koutu Nui will be presented to the Immigration select committee chaired by Internal Affairs minister Mac Mokoroa, in due course, says Terea Mataiapo.

Kairangi Samuela, the principal immigration officer, says the definition of a Cook Islander in the Immigration Bill has been one of the major discussions at public consultations this week.

It is a broad subject that may require further consultation and discussions, she acknowledges.

The Immigration Bill makes reference to the definition of a Cook Islander for purpose of traveling, entering and staying in the Cook Islands.

Samuela says they have not changed the definition of a Cook Islander in the Bill but adopted the one from the existing Entry, Residence and Departure Act 1971-72 – and added to it.

In the Immigration Bill, a Cook Islander and a permanent resident holder have the same rights when it comes to travelling in and out of the country. They may travel to, enter, and stay in the Cook Islands at any time and do not require a visa or permit.

However, a permanent resident holder can be removed or deported from the country if their permanent resident status is first revoked.

Samuela says the three core areas identified in the Immigration Bill are the success, safety and the security of the Cook Islands.

The new law changes immigration operations “drastically”, she says, to meet the modern challenges presented by technology, transnational crimes, and more migrant workers.


  • Comment Link Tevaine Akapi Sunday, 19 July 2020 12:54 posted by Tevaine Akapi

    what about the absolute discretion mentioned in the immigration act? does that mean if mr lyon appeals to the right minister he can receive honorary citizenship without any challenge from the cook island maori community?

  • Comment Link Maringikura Campbell Thursday, 04 June 2020 06:39 posted by Maringikura Campbell

    The Cook Islands is so small compared to other countries and quite frankly if the Cook Islands allow people who are not of Cook Island descent to call themselves Cook Islanders then the Cook Island Maori people and the land will eventually disappear.

  • Comment Link Kaena Mataiapo Tutara Monday, 01 June 2020 16:35 posted by Kaena Mataiapo Tutara

    My understanding of an Cook Islanders is a born and rise on any of the 15 island regardless your parents was born NZ or other country you are born Cook Islanders. and those who are holds PR are not call cook islanders but have the wright in the Cook Islands that's the diffrance and we are known the People of the Polynesian it that simple When God greater the world and the people it was simple everything was simple and wen the men took over the world what happen!! We can see it today what's happening around us Really wake up God gave 99% of everything free we only have to do 1% still life is hard Why!!

  • Comment Link Teinakore Parutu Sunday, 31 May 2020 05:27 posted by Teinakore Parutu

    Kia Orana I was reading the above news regarding Mr Lyons wanting to be called a Cook Islander after living in the Cook Island for 15 years. He cannot be a Cook lslander he does not have bloodline from the Cook lslands . It like me living overseas for more than 40 years and I want to be called an Australian that will never happen even if I apply for citizenship I am only recognised by paper but by blood

  • Comment Link Frank Reed Saturday, 30 May 2020 19:07 posted by Frank Reed

    Of course Stephen Lyon is a "Cook Islander."

    But he is not a "Native Cook Islander."

    Citizenship is a different thing from ancestry.

    For example, anyone who is a citizen of the United States is an "American."

    But only the indigenous people of the United States are called "Native American."

    Current U.S. president Donald Trump is an "American."

    But his ancestry is not indigenous but rather his ancestry, like most U.S. citizens, is European.

    Being Donald Trump is not indigenous to the U.S. he is not a "Native American."

    Donald Trump is a "European American." Just as former U.S. president Barack Obama is an "African American."

    Both Trump and Obama are "American."

    Of course Stephen Lyon is a "Cook Islander."

  • Comment Link Judy Saturday, 30 May 2020 15:56 posted by Judy

    The Act doesn’t need to change to accommodate the likes of Stephen Lyon and who is he to question the definition of a Cook Islander, Cook Island Maori etc? He has lived in Rarotonga for 15 years surely one would respect the law not challenge it! If he’s not happy because he can’t be called a Cook Islander then he doesn’t have to stay. Rarotonga isn’t holding him to ransom.

  • Comment Link H.. Hakaoro Saturday, 30 May 2020 12:10 posted by H.. Hakaoro

    The focus should be on the contents of the Bill rather than the definition of a Cook Islander. The Constitution has already settled that matter. Rather, ka tuku te manako on why work permits and others such as PR applicants require proficiency in English and just the 'ability' in Maori. I think this warrants kimikimi manako and needs to be looked at seriously and amended pretty fast. All employers should have their Business Accounts be inspected by Immigration Cook Islands prior to the issue of work permits. E kia rauka or be able to randomly do so during the employment of a foreigner. This will ensure that the company has the cashflow kia tutaki ite au taeake so that no migrant worker should work and not paid for as has been the case in recent years. Tuku i to kotou manako kite Select Kumiti i mua ake ka 'akamana ia ai te Ture ou.

  • Comment Link Nga Marsters Saturday, 30 May 2020 11:26 posted by Nga Marsters

    Unbelievable. All about self-interest ‘me, me, me’, me!’. 15 years...big deal! How about gratitude for the opportunity of living & working in the Cook Islands, instead of demanding. Right there, says you are not Cook Islander - where’s your humbleness.

  • Comment Link Tuaongo Rasmussen Saturday, 30 May 2020 11:09 posted by Tuaongo Rasmussen

    A Cook Islander for me is what's stated above in Part 3 number 21, regardless of where you live and grew up.
    I have Australian Passport/ and Citizenship but that doesnt make me a Australian.
    I am of Cook Islands birth and decent and that gives me the right to be a true Cook Islander.
    Stay true to our tradition, once you open the door to accept outsiders in, others will start claiming it also.

    Kia manuia,
    Tuaongo Rasmussen.

  • Comment Link Stephen Lyon celebrate your own heritage. Fifteen year residency does not make   you Cook Islander - it’s the  stuff that runs through your  veins that does. Insinuating that we should be grateful for your participation in the Sports arena - it was your o Saturday, 30 May 2020 10:47 posted by Stephen Lyon celebrate your own heritage. Fifteen year residency does not make you Cook Islander - it’s the stuff that runs through your veins that does. Insinuating that we should be grateful for your participation in the Sports arena - it was your o


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