Sir Toke Talagi: A Pacific icon

Former Niue Premier Sir Toke Talagi will be laid to rest on Monday 27 July.

Sir Toke Talagi  passed away after a prolonged illness, soon after arriving home on a private chartered flight from New Zealand where he had been medevaced a week earlier.

The funeral will be held after his family finishes it’s 14-day self-quarantine. In a statement announcing his death, the family thanked the “medical teams of the Niue Foou Hospital, the Auckland City Hospital and the New Zealand Air Ambulance Service, for the unwavering care given to our dearest father, and the Government of Niue for honouring all of our wishes to bring him home to spend his final days.”

Sir Toke held business interests in shipping, tourism and airline-related industries. He was Niue’s first Consul General from 1981 to 1984, in Auckland and was first elected to Niue’s assembly in 1999, holding portfolios in finance, economics, telecommunications, education, environment and external affairs. He was elected Premier in 2008, a position he held until last month.

During his tenure Sir Toke was a strong voice for Pacific nations  in international climate change fora, calling for global action on emission reduction. He was a founding member of the Polynesian Leaders Group, began diplomatic relations with China, and domestically drove tax reforms.

Incumbent Niue Premier Dalton Tagelagi served in Sir Toke’s past two cabinets and said his predecessor was a dedicated politician, diplomat, statesman as well as a devoted husband, father, and grandfather.

“The country mourns the loss of a cherished son and great leader. His legacy lives on with the work he has completed for our small island nation. He will be remembered for his dedication to Niue and his commitment to a prosperous Niue – Niue ke Monuina. His passion was the promotion of the Niuean language and education of our young people, the future leaders of Niue.”

This achievement was also recognised by the Governor-General of the Realm of New Zealand, Dame Patsy Reddy, who invested Sir Toke with his knighthood in 2017. She said : “I pay particular tribute to the resurgence of the Niuean language and culture that flourished under his leadership.”

Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna recognised his contribution as an “unwavering champion of fundamental Pacific values of family, collectivism, reciprocity and respect. These values were never more apparent than during his passionate advocacy and leadership on issues which presented unique challenges to the communities of Small Island States to which Niue and the Cook Islands both belong.”

“His unwavering activism in encouraging vigorous health initiatives, including addressing the serious threat posed by Non-Communicable Diseases to the well-being of our Pacific People, has been long supported by our Government and will continue to be a central part of our overall regional health agenda,” said the Prime Minister. “The realisation of the Moana Mahu Marine Protected Area, the second largest marine protected reserve in the Pacific, is another key accomplishment of Sir Toke’s enduring leadership.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she spoke with Sir Toke recently: “We talked about Niue’s Covid response, the people of Niue and his recent book. He was fiercely proud of Niue, and rightly so. It was a place he dedicated his life and service to.

Dr Colin Tuikuitonga, a Niuean and former Pacific Community Director General who worked with Sir Toke, told Radio New Zealand that the leader will be remembered as one of Niue’s greatest advocates.

 “I think Toke was one of those unusual Niueans, he was very determined, he built himself a business enterprise from nothing, I guess you could say, and he was always someone who thought outside of the box.”

 “He was always creative, he believed fiercely in Niue and Niueans doing more for themselves. I think he was rather impatient for some of the things that was going on and I know he did a lot, particularly for tourism in his term as Premier.