Dr Colin Fonotau Tukuitonga was one of three recipients of the Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, and one of sixteen Pacific islanders in New Zealand to be recognised and awarded distinctions in this year’s Queens Birthday and Platinum Jubilee honours list.
Sir Collin was born at Vaila, Alofi North in 1957, raised by his grandparents at Togalupo and attended schools in Niue.
When asked what this honour means to him Sir Collin paid tribute to his grandparents and family and acknowledge his humble beginnings as a boy from Togalupo. The emotion was evident in his voice as he spoke fondly of his family and his homeland Niue.
“It reminds you of your beginnings, and where you started and it’s always a good thing to always remember where you come from”.
“It does also though make me think very much about my grandparents, my grandfather and grandmother who raised me. My mother, she was a self-taught teacher. We always regarded her as a home economics teacher. Many of the things she did such as baking, sewing and her work, she did on her own, her own creativity with no assistance from anyone else.
Sir Collin told BCN News that this is probably the highlight of his professional career and he acknowledges all his colleagues in the New Zealand health sector.
“It’s nice to be acknowledged. It’s made me acutely aware of the fact that many people do what I do, day in and day out but they don’t get recognised so I acknowledge them, particularly my colleagues in the health sector.
While not yet confirmed when or where the investiture ceremony for Sir Collin Fonotau Tukuitoga will be held, he told BCN News that he would very much appreciate it if his investiture ceremony could be held here in Niue to acknowledge his humble beginnings and as a tribute to his family and his upbringing in Niue.
“I would very much like it to be in Niue, to acknowledge my family, to acknowledge my humble beginnings and also of course to acknowledge the people of Niue. I do pay tribute to Sir Toke and Sir Robert for their pioneering ways. I am of course slightly different in that I have this honour bestowed on me for the work I’ve done mostly outside of Niue, but it’s a wonderful feeling and I’d like it very much for the ceremony to be conducted on our beloved island”, said Sir Collin.
Sir Collin wants to encourage young Niueans saying that if this can happen to him, a boy raised in Niue, then it can happen to anyone.
“My message to the young people, if I can do it, so can you. It starts with you believing in yourself. It is followed up by showing up, turning up, being prepared, and being respectful of the people that you work with. Being supporting of people that you work with, always give time to young people, encourage and support them”.
On Sunday morning as the news broke in New Zealand, Niueans in Niue and abroad took to social media to share their joy about this honour, a very proud moment for all Niueans.
Yesterday Premier Dalton Tagelagi issued a public statement congratulating Sir Collin Tukuitoga on behalf of the people and the government of Niue.
“We are delighted for this honour received by Sir Tukuitonga for his services to his people and the Community. He has worked long and hard and I am pleased that his work has been recognised at the highest level.”
“Niue also recognises all Sir Tukuitonga’s efforts for Niue, including his work in celebrating Taoga Niue and bringing together Niueans abroad with the people in Niue, and especially recently in our COVID-19 response, and we wish him the very best. I am sure that he will continue to support us here in Niue and the Pasifika community in New Zealand”.
Sir Collin was instrumental in building the bridge connecting the diaspora of Niueans with their homeland by establishing the Niue Arts and Cultural Festival which started in 2009 and takes place every two years in Niue.
He is also a strong advocate of the vagahau Niue, especially for Niueans in New Zealand.
While most of his career in public health is well known, not many people know of his time working in Niue.
In 1979 he graduated from the Fiji School of Medicine with a Diploma in Surgery and Medicine.
He started his career in the Niue Public service in 1980 as a medical officer with the health department, moving up the ranks to the position of Acting Director of Health.
Sir Colin said that he is grateful for his mentors from his early years in Niue especially the late Dr Harry Nemaia and the late Dr Hipa who were instrumental in his early career development in the medical field.
In 1984 Sir Collin graduated with a Degree in Public Health from Sidney University.
Sir Colin Tukuitonga left the Niue public service in 1987 but continued to assist the Niue government in many different capacities over the years, including as the Niue government public health advisor in the fight against Covid-19.
Sir Collin is acknowledged for his public service work mainly in New Zealand which includes his role as Director of Public Health between 2001 and 2003, leading the national response to the threat of SARS.
From 2003 to 2006 he worked for the United Nation’s World Health Organisation in Geneva, developing international policies for the control of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
He was Chief Executive of the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs between 2007 and 2012. Between 2014 and 2020, Dr Colin Tukuitonga was the Director-General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.
He is currently the inaugural Associate Dean (Pacific) in the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at the University of Auckland and is the president of the New Zealand College of Public Health.
BCN News extend our heartfelt congratulations to Sir Collin and his family on this auspicious honour and thank him for always giving us time and always responding to our requests for interviews.