(tōkəlou', tōkĕlä'u) formerly Union Islands, island group (2011 pop. 1,411), c.5 sq mi (c.12 sq km), S Pacific, a self-administering territory of New Zealand. It is composed of three small atolls, Atafu, Nukunono (the largest), and Fakaofo. Tokelau does not have a capital; each atoll has its own administrative center. Apia, in Samoa, is Tokelau's port of entry. The Polynesian inhabitants are mainly Christians and have a subsistence economy; the chief exports are copra, handicrafts, stamps, and coins. Aid from New Zealand is economically important; additional government income is derived from Internet domain name rental fees. Remittances from emigrants are also important. The atolls are subject to occasional tropical cyclones, which did severe damage in 1966 and 2005. Tokelau is governed under the Tokelau Islands Act of 1948 as amended. The monarch of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, represented by the governor-general of New Zealand, is the head of state. The position of head of government rotates annually among the three village leaders (faipule). Members of the 21-seat assembly (General Fono) are popularly elected for 3-year terms.
Explored by British commodore John Byron in 1765, the group was made a British protectorate in 1877 and was included (1916–25) in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony. In 1925 Tokelau was mandated to New Zealand, and from 1926 to 1948 the islands were administered from the Territory of Western Samoa (now Samoa). In 1948 New Zealand acquired formal sovereignty, and in 1949 Tokelau officially became part of New Zealand. The islands were granted limited self-government in 1996; New Zealand statute law does not apply to Tokelau without its consent. The signing of the Principles of Partnerships with New Zealand in 2003 spelled out the relationship between the two and furthered self government in Tokelau. Two referendums (2006, 2007) on ending New Zealand's rule over Tokelau failed to win the two-thirds majority required for passage.