From a legal standpoint, there is no such thing as a Cook Islands citizenship. The Cook Islands is a self-governing country in free association with New Zealand and is part of the Realm of New Zealand. As such, Cook Islanders are New Zealand citizens.
The Cook Islands does not issue its own passports, a privilege usually assumed by virtually all sovereign countries, but places this responsibility in the hands of the New Zealand Government which issues passports for New Zealand citizens who are also Cook Islands nationals.
On the other hand, Cook Islands nationality is differentiated from that of the rest of the New Zealand citizens.
A person shall have the status of a permanent resident of the Cook Islands if he was born in the Cook Islands, and -...
- Either or both of his parents had the status of a permanent resident of the Cook Islands at the date of his birth; or
- In the case of a child who was born after the death of his father to a mother who did not have the status at the date of birth of the child, his father had that status at the date of his death; or
- He was adopted by a person who at the date of adoption had that status-- Cook Islands Constitution, Constitution Amendment (No 9) Act 1980-81, Article 76A(1)
These provisions setting out qualifications for the status of a permanent resident of the Cook Islands are supplemented by other legislation to regulate the granting of permanent resident status to others, qualifications to be held by a permanent resident, and conditions under which that status may be withdrawn.
Nationality in this sense may be distinguished from citizenship. While it does not have distinct citizenship legislation, the Cook Islands has determined under its own laws who are its nationals and what privileges they enjoy by virtue of that status. Cook Islanders possess New Zealand citizenship with the full rights and privileges that status entails. At the same time, however, the Cook Islands has determined its own distinct nationality which, in effect, does not grant New Zealand citizens the same rights and privileges enjoyed by Cook Islanders in New Zealand.
Well over 90 percent of Cook Islanders are either of full or partial descent of the native Polynesian people of the islands, who are known as Cook Islands M?ori. Cook Islands M?ori share many ancestral links with the M?ori of New Zealand and the native people (M?'ohi) of French Polynesia. Some Cook Islanders are also of other Polynesian, European (Papa'a), or Asian descent.