Tokelau is officially referred to as a nation by both the New Zealand government and the Tokelauan government. It is a free and democratic nation with elections every three years. However, in 2007 the United Nations General Assembly included Tokelau on its list of non-self-governing territories. Its inclusion on the list is controversial, as Tokelauans have twice voted against further self-determination and the islands' small population reduces the viability of self-government. The basis of Tokelau's legislative, administrative and judicial systems is the Tokelau Islands Act 1948, which has been amended on a number of occasions. Since 1993, the territory has annually elected its own head of government, the Ulu-o-Tokelau. Previously the administrator of Tokelau was the highest official in the government and the territory was administered directly by a New Zealand government department.
The name Tokelau is a Polynesian word meaning "north wind". The islands were named the Union Islands and Union Group by European explorers at an unknown time.Tokelau Islands was adopted as the name in 1946, and was contracted to Tokelau on 9 December 1976.