Sir Collin Tukuitonga: the newest Niuean Knight
6 June 2022
Waipapa Taumata Rau University of Auckland congratulates Associate Professor Collin Tukuitonga who has received a knighthood in the 2022 Queen's Birthday Honours.
Associate Professor Collin Tukuitonga, the Associate Dean Pacific of the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences (FMHS), has been made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in recognition of his services to Pacific and public health. Media adviser Pacific, Emmaline Pickering-Martin, outlines a proud moment for Pacific people.
Sir Collin is a proud Tagata Niue, born in the village of Alofi and is the third Niuean to receive a Knighthood. The first Sir Robert Rex (1984) was Niue’s first Premier and the second, Sir Toke Talagi (2017), was also a well-respected Premier of Niue.
Sir Collin is a prominent figure in Pacific communities not only here in Aotearoa New Zealand but internationally. He has had a long, high-performing career and within this has always had Pacific people’s health and wellbeing at heart.
Sir Collin studied medicine at the Fiji School of Medicine (FSM) and the University of the South Pacific (USP) in Suva, Fiji and is a much loved member of the Fijian community to this day. His move to New Zealand, however, was not his ‘first choice’ and had he not failed in achieving his first big goal he would not have made it to our shores. Failure can teach us a lot, explains the newly knighted Sir Collin.
“After I finished studying in Suva at USP, I wanted to go back home to Niue. So I did and I applied to be Chief of Medicine there. I was not successful, so I went back to Suva and the opportunity to come to New Zealand came about. But had I been successful in my first goal I probably would have just stayed in Niue and things may have been very different. Failure can teach us a lot.”
This ‘failure’ led Sir Collin to New Zealand in 1987 where he worked as a junior doctor in Auckland Hospital and began his journey to becoming one of the Pacific’s most trusted health professionals within the region.
Sir Collin has established, led and been a part of many inaugural positions, organisations and programmes across the health sector in New Zealand. He was one of the founders of the first Pacific-owned, Pacific healthcare clinic in 1989 now known as The Fono. This is one of the career achievements he is most proud of.
“To see The Fono, which is now the largest Pacific provider in Auckland, grow to what it is now, has been wonderful. When we set it up in 1989, we thought it was going to be a niche small provider in West Auckland.”
Decade after decade Sir Collin has belonged to teams that have created game-changing initiatives and paved the way for Pacific health professionals.
Among achievements highlighted in his knighthood citation, Sir Collin:
- was one of the founding members of the Pacific Medical Association
- set up Pacific Heartbeat at the National Heart Foundation
- was one of the researchers who won the funding to establish the first longitudinal study of Pacific families at AUT (Pacific Islands Family Study) that is still active today
- wrote the first health report on Pacific Families and highlighted the inequities in New Zealand for Pacific people
- has been the head of multiple organisations initiating firsts for Pacific people.
I hope that our young Pacific people see this and think, ‘I can do that too.’
While this honour is welcome and deserved, Sir Collin is grateful to those around him, especially his family, who have allowed him to be who he is and do the work that he has done.
“You don’t do these things and get these honours on your own. There are so many people around you that work with you to get things done. I am one person but there are so many others who I have worked with who deserve recognition too. Colleagues who don’t get recognised but do just as much work and deserve just as much credit.”
Sir Collin has been an important voice for the Pacific community throughout the Covid-19 and led the Pacific response. According to the citation, this includes a multitude of roles on advisory, strategic and public health groups and committees in Aotearoa and the Pacific.
When discussing his feelings about his new Knighthood, Sir Collin says: “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t chuffed, I truly am. I have mixed emotions. This is truly humbling after decades of work, it is really nice to be recognised. My family is very happy and I am too.
“This is especially good for our Niuean community. By my getting recognised, it brings recognition to all of our communities. I hope that our young Pacific people see this and think, ‘I can do that too'.”
Perhaps one of the most fitting ways to capture who Sir Collin Tukuitonga truly is to our Pacific communities is by sharing a story about an experience he had.
It was a rainy night in South Auckland and Sir Collin was looking for a taxi to get him to the airport, as he was to fly down to Wellington that evening. He finally managed to get one and jumped in.
It just so happened that the driver was a Sāmoan man. He turned and looked and Sir Collin and said ‘Hey you’re Dr Tui-tonga’, He couldn’t quite get the name right. Sir Collin said, ‘Yes, I am Dr Tukuitonga, nice to meet you.’
The driver then stopped and said, "I want to thank you. You influenced my daughter to go to med school and now she is a practising doctor. She became a doctor because one time you rang our house and spoke to her and encouraged her to go to med school. So, I want to thank you."
It had been years between that phone call and the taxi ride. Sir Collin was in disbelief.
He recalls this story with a deep fondness and it truly is a testament to the man he is; one that can work at the highest of heights in western institutions but will still make a phone call to a Pacific family for encouragement and care. It'sno wonder he has been honoured so highly and our communities are all better off in so many ways because of Sir Collin Tukuitonga.
Media Advisor, Pacific | Waipapa Taumata Rau University of