"This week is about holding on to our culture, holding on to our language and spirituality," says Isitolo Pakome.
Isitolo is talking about Vaiaho o te Gagana Tokelau: Tokelau Language Week, which kicked off in Taupō with a launch on Sunday afternoon.
Isitolo is the Toeaiina (kaumatua or elder) of the Tokelauan community in Taupō and has been secretary of the Tokelauan Community of Taupō for many years.
Made up of three coral atolls - Atafu, Fakaofo and Nukunonu, which sit on extinct volcano peaks - Tokelau has a total land area of 12sq km which is under threat due to global warming. As per the 2018 Census, there are 8676 Tokelauans living in New Zealand.
The theme of this year's Tokelau Language Week is "Apoapo tau foe, i nā tāfea i te galutau. Ke mau mai, ke mau mai", which means "Never give up hope, even amidst chaos and much uncertainty. Stay united, stay strong".
Isitolo is a proud Tokelauan New Zealander who was born in Tokelau. His parents came to New Zealand in 1967 under the Tokelau Islands Resettlement Scheme which assisted Tokelauan families to move to New Zealand. Isitolo followed later, under an education scholarship scheme.
He says while many Tokelauans originally settled in Taupō, many had since moved on to other towns around the country. The Tokelauan community in the Taupō district originated from six families and now numbers an estimated 400 to 500 people.
This week is Tokelau Language Week and Isitolo said it was a great honour and an opportunity for the Tokelauan community in Taupō to hold a number of open events, to host people at St Paul's Church and the Taupō Netball Centre, and to promote Tokelauan language and culture.
The week was launched at St Paul's on Sunday and the next day there was a visit and clean-up at Taupō Cemetery. From Monday, events are being held at the Taupō Netball Centre from 5pm to 8pm each evening throughout the week. Each evening has a different focus, from history to health, and all are followed by fatele (traditional dance) practice and devotions. Everybody is welcome to join in and learn more about Tokelauan culture, history and language.
On Saturday festivities wrap up with a hard-fought game of kilikiti (cricket) at Crown Park. Farmers will be taking on their rivals the townies at the game from 11am to 4pm, followed by fatele, a closing ceremony and devotions in the evening.
Isitolo says that while the week of events gives Taupō Tokelauans the chance to come together in the spirit of service and to keep their culture and language alive, the most important thing is that the youth are running the programme for the week.
"The youth have activities to do, it's a new thing and we must keep it on because the youth is the future of the Tokelauan community," Isitolo says.
"They were too shy before, they were too scared before and we had a big meeting with the elders and I stood up and said 'time for change now, it's time for the young people to step in and it's time for them to take part in the trust'."
He says part of the emphasis of the week is about keeping the Tokelauan language alive and so the youth at the events have to speak the Tokelauan language too because otherwise the language will drift away from them.
"The idea is to bring people together and the opportunity for the young ones to stand up. If we don't focus on the young ones then they lose their culture."
As part of the preparations, the youths have visited 30 or so local Tokelauan families and interviewed them about their culture and history which they will put together into a video presentation which everybody in the community can gather together and watch.
Another top priority of the week is empowering the spiritual aspect, Isitolo adds.
"Every function we have, we always start with a prayer and end with a prayer. I think spiritually it helps keep the young ones away from trouble."
Although the week is for Tokelauans to celebrate, everybody from the wider community is welcome to join in the events and they are all free, Isitolo says.
"All the events are open to anyone interested in knowing more about Tokelauan culture."
Labour MP and former Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio says staying strong in the face of challenges and being true to heritage and languages are the keys to Pacific people preserving their cultural identity and wellbeing.
"I would encourage all New Zealanders to use some simple Tokelauan greetings and words during Tokelau Language Week, taking the time to understand and appreciate what these words mean and their cultural importance," says the MP.
Tokelau Language Week, Taupō: Schedule
Sunday, October 25
Launch at St Paul's Church Taupō, 4pm to 6pm.
Monday October 26
Visit and clean-up at Taupō Cemetery, 11am.
History Day, followed by fatele (traditional dance) practice, then devotions at Taupō Netball Centre, 5pm to 8pm.
Tuesday, October 27
Cooking and interview evening, followed by fatele practice and devotions at Taupō Netball Centre, 5pm to 8pm.
Wednesday October 28
Health and wellbeing evening followed by devotions at Taupō Netball Centre, 5pm to 8pm.
Thursday October 29
Arts and crafts evening, followed by fatele practice and devotions at Taupō Netball Centre, 5pm to 8pm.
Friday October 30
Carving and fishing evening, followed by fatele practice and devotions at Taupō Netball Centre, 5pm to 8pm.
Saturday, October 31
Kilikiti (cricket) at Crown Park, 11am to 4pm
Fatele, closing ceremony and devotions at Taupō Netball Centre, 5pm to 8pm.