Cook Islands constitution header
The Cook Islands became a self-governing nation on 4th August, 1965.  This page reflects on this very special day in the history of the nation...a day which is a national holiday and around which two weeks of celebrations take place.
Her Majesty the Queen (Queen Elizabeth II) -  who, to this day remains the official head of state - sent "warmest greetings" to her people on Constitution Day, 1965. 
DANCING TO A POLITICAL TUNE

Cultural competitions have been a focal part of the constitution celebrations from the start.  But until recently, dancing and singing performances were used by islanders to praise political parties and lobby for projects on their islands.  

Changes came as recently as 2002 when the Culture Secretary of the time decided that the political rally format should be ditched in favour of one that focussed on unity through cultural heritage.   And that's how it's been ever since.   
Picture courtesy of and copyright Harv Allison
The Constitution Celebrations were renamed in 2001 because the Prime Minister of the time wanted a Cook Islands Maori name to capture the essence and joy of the annual festival.  they are now called "Te Maeva Nui" which translates as "the major or most important celebration". 
Albert Henry thought big...he wanted big ships and big planes to come to Rarotonga.  And he encouraged foreign investment. Today's docks and international airport are down to his vision and his hard work. 

He also introduced a universal old age pension (10 shillings a week  = 50 UK pence), and a policy still in force today that no building in the Cook Islands should be higher than the highest coconut tree.

But Henry's political career came to an ignominious end.  He was tried and convicted of election crimes in 1978 and his government removed from office. 

THE VISIONARY FIRST PM
The Cook Islands is a self governing nation "in free association with New Zealand".  That means it makes its own laws and governs itself, but New Zealand is responsible for External Affairs and Defence in consultation with the Cook Islands government.   All Islanders also have New Zealand citizenship and this right is protected under the constitution.


A TIMELINE OF COOK ISLANDS CONSTITUTIONAL HISTORY

1888:  UK declares the islands a British colony
1901:  Islands annexed by New Zealand
1947:  Legislative Council established
1959:  Council expanded to include representatives from Islands' Councils
14 December, 1960:   UN General Assembly passes a resolution calling for all colonial peoples to be granted full independence
12 July, 1962:   Options for the political future of the Islands laid out by New Zealand's Minister of Island Territories
20 April, 1965:   Cook Islands general election to choose members of the Legislative Assembly (subsequently Parliament)
4 August, 1965:   Cook Islands declared a self-governing nation "in free association with New Zealand"
16 December, 1965:   UN General Assembly endorses self government
The current flag replaced this one in August, 1979
Original Cook Islands flat
WERE YOU THERE ON CONSTITUTION DAY, 1965? 
SHARE YOUR MEMORIES IN THE GUEST BOOK OR BY EMAILING ME AND I'LL PUBLISH YOUR STORY



Cook Islands flag
Albert Henry
Queens letter
HM The Queen
She said in a letter (left): "Although I hve not yet been able to visit you in person, I have always rejoiced to hear news of your progress and welfare. 

"It is my sincere wish that this important day in your long history will be blest by Almighty God and will be the door to a happy and prosperous future.

KIA ORANA.  KOTOU KATAOTOA"


 WARM WISHES FROM HM THE QUEEN
Parliament, which is based on the UK model, has two houses.  The lower house or Legislative Assembly has 25 elected members - 24 from districts of the Cook Islands and one representing the many Cook Islanders who live overseas.  The Members of Parliament represent districts and islands.  The upper house, or House of Ariki, is made up of traditional leaders, who provide consultation and advice.

Right: The Parliament buildings - not quite a rival for the UK's seat of government, but none the less important constitutionally
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