Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography and Anthropology

Document Type



Tokelau’s people face legacies of multiple waves of colonization and uncertain climate futures. The annexation of Olohega/Swains Island by the United States of America (U.S.) and the territorialization of the remaining Tokelau atolls by New Zealand has left Tokelau communities separated by colonial borders that shape everyday realities of movement and connection between Tagata Tokelau (indigenous people of Tokelau) and Tokelau itself. With no government resourcing to facilitate connections between diasporic communities, Tagata Tokelau are reliant on familial efforts and community-based activities to foster connections across colonial borders. Currently, scholars frame diaspora in terms of “home” and “away”, and geographic interrogations of diasporic communities still focus on nation-state borders, and sedentary ideas about migration.

This research examines how people of Tokelau, living in diasporic nodes in U.S. and New Zealand articulate and perform their connections to Tokelau by using a framework that engages “imaginaries” and Critical Cartographies. I will do so by analyzing cultural performances, oral histories, and informal conversations in both Hawai‘i and the Wellington region in New Zealand alongside ethnographic research with Tagata Tokelau communities. Drawing on recent literature that theorizes transnationalism and connections between “home” and diasporic populations as well as imaginaries, I analyze how Tokelau as place has grown beyond its shores, and into diasporic nodes through articulations and performances enacted by its people. Through genealogical practices, built spaces, and language and cultural programming, Tagata Tokelau are continually finding ways to gather, know, and understand their relationships and the responsibilities they import, and ultimately live their lives in diasporic nodes, in ways that are principally “Tokelauan.” This happens unevenly, both within the Wellington region and in comparison, to Hawai‘i . Respective relationships with the state, state infrastructure, and forms of political recognition influence the kinds of funding available to resource community spaces, language, and culture programming. This research helps us to understand the impact that various colonial borders and relationships continue to have on Tokelau’s diasporic formations and connections. It will also inform how Tokelau communities continue connecting with each other, and Tokelau itself as its people continue to grapple with the disconnection resulting from colonization and potential land loss due to sea-level rise.



Committee Chair

Colten, Craig



Available for download on Friday, May 10, 2030