Saturday, September 5, 2020

Bob Edlin: The Farce of Cultural Appropriation

Yes, you can win IPONZ approval for your branding but it’s back to the drawing board if some Māori mount an offensive against you

The makers of the gin once branded “indiginous”  announced early in June they were back in business and their product – now known as “imagination” – was available again, in stores and online.

Since then their Facebook page has recorded that whatever it’s called, the hand-crafted gin they make in the Reikorangi Valley, near Waikanae, has gone down a treat with the experts. They were awarded a silver medal and the highest score for a New Zealand gin at the London Spirits Competition; a gold, a silver and two bronze medals at the New Zealand Spirits Awards; and a bronze medal at the International Wine & Spirit Competition in the UK.
The most recent post, on August 18, advised:   
“A very satisfying way to end the medal season! We won our very first medal with our very first gin at the 2019 SIP Awards in the USA, and we’ve gone back to back with another Gold medal for our Triple Distilled Dry Gin for 2020.”
Another of their gins picked up Silver. 
But it has been a harrowing year.
Their “indiginous” gin had been on sale for more than a year when – early in March – they were  targeted in a social media campaign of abuse and threats by people professing to have been offended by a Māori tattoo-inspired label, by the brand name, and by “cultural appropriation”.  

New branding was developed during the trading hiatus for the hospitality sector caused by the Covid-19 lockdown.  Company director Gavin Bradley says it maintains as many cues as possible from the old brand, but without Māori visual cues.
Fair to say, the social media campaign – or rather, the wider media publicity it generated – did sales no harm. 
“We had record sales immediately after the hit,” Bradley told Point of Order.
But rebranding has cost several thousand dollars. 
The company’s Facebook page records what happened.
On March 4 the company announced “some very strongly held opinions” had been expressed on its social media channels regarding the original gin bottle label and the “indiginous” brand.
Company principals said they were   “heartbroken that we have caused such angst in our community”.
Their mission from the start had been to source ingredients indigenous to a certain area in their region and to celebrate the communities which grew those ingredients.
“We tried to be as thorough as we knew how to, to ensure that there was nothing offensive in the imagery of our label.
“We approached a local artist to create the artwork for the label to tell our story through his art; a Samoan artist who grew up within a Māori community in Porirua. Then, before we went to print, we studied the ‘Protecting intellectual property with a Māori cultural element’ guide to make sure that we didn’t use any protected symbols or ones that would cause offence in relation to a product.
“We thought we were being thorough, but we did not see it through everyone’s eyes and we are sorry for that. As soon as the matter was raised, we announced that we would change the label.”
But the brand name was under attack, too, as reflected in this condemnation on the company’s Facebook page:   
“This is a seriously offensive name. When are people going to STOP using the cultural band wagon for your $$$$ making. Its cultural misappropriation seriously!. Should have used your own last name. Offend ancestors that belong to you, not the whole world of indigenous people.”
A bemused Bradley says that when the brand ‘indiginous’ was created he and his colleagues had gone through a rigorous screening process and received trademark approval from the relevant Māori Advisory Committee of the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand.
Māori advisory committees were established within IPONZ to minimise the risk that the Crown may inadvertently register intellectual property likely to cause offence to Māori.  There are two committees – the Trade Marks Māori Advisory Committee and the Patents Māori Advisory Committee.
Bradley said his company did not submit its label to IPONZ but it was given the Māori trademark advisory committee’s approval to call the gin “indiginous”.
Both the label and the name were withdrawn nevertheless when the company was assailed.  It was back to the drawing to come up with a new brand.
Their good grace was not reciprocated by all critics, as comments on the Facebook page attest: 
What did you expect?
“Oh key ooor ra, I just wanted to thank you for ripping off my culture and planning to do it to other Indigenous peoples around the world too”?!
You lot should rebrand to “Insidious Gin”. It’s much more fitting. Though leave the cultural appropriation out of your next logo, yeah
Rip off you own culture….. not ours when it suits you!!!! 
This is offensive and disgusting
The company’s experience raises questions about what a company can do when IPONZ trademarking and branding decisions and/or the advice given by the relevant Māori Advisory Committee are challenged.
One Facebook comment pertinently observed:       
FYI. The ‘Māori Advisory Panel’ does not represent the interests of ALL Māori, it’s another Pākeha construct. You can’t just say there was no offence because a few Māori on a Committee said so.
Company director Bradley acknowledges this was at the core of the controversy. 
“There is no yes or no answer. I can talk to two Māori cultural advisors and get two different/opposing opinions.” 
Karaitiana Taiuru, of Christchurch, a cultural adviser and member of the Maori Advisory Committee dealing with trademarks, agreed.  There is no one Maori view, just as there is no one New Zealand view.
Unlike Kri Faafoi, Minister of Business, Innovation and Employment, Taiuru willingly and quickly responded to several questions emailed to him by Point of Order at the time of the furore, when an IPONZ-approved name was coming under attack.
He emphasised he could not speak on behalf of the committee, but he could speak as a member of the public who followed and advocated on these issues. 
If the Maori Advisory Committee considered the indiginous logo, he explained, it would have had to make a decision based on their Terms of Reference. Clause 3,2 would be the primary reference.
The word “indigenous” is not commonly associated with Māori, neither now nor historically, he said.
“Traditionally Māori referred to each other by tribal names or in general terms such as Nga uri o Tane and Nga uri o Papa – descendants of Tane and Papatuanuku. Post colonisation the terms Maori and Tangata Whenua have become common. I can not recall Maori ever being called Indigenous. I believe the reason is political as it constitutes recognition that successive colonial governments denied Maori. 
 “Statutes (present and historical), ethnographers and colonial literature use the word ‘native’ among other offensive terms. Indigenous is a common term overseas as is the term native which Māori would find offensive. Using a dictionary definition, yes Māori are Indigenous. Therefore, it would be difficult to be satisfied that a large portion of the Māori community would take offence with the word Indigenous being modified for marketing, especially with the logo that was approved. The company does state they use a range of Indigenous products in their product. 
“From an international perspective, the word Indigenous being modified for alcohol has a large amount of ramifications. But that does not fall within clause 3.2 of the Terms of Reference.”  
Taiuru said the label that had triggered online criticism was offensive.
“The artwork is sacred and creates a large amount of offence. According to the company public statements, the artist is also not Māori and there appears to be no consultation with Māori.”
He explained that the advisory committee on which he sits is appointed by the Commissioner of Patents, Trade Marks, Designs and Plant Variety Rights. It requires a range of highly specialised skills and experience. The IPONZ web site reflects this in their appointments. 
Germane to a key point raised by Bradley – that different cultural advisers can give conflicting opinions – he said:
“You have to understand that there is no one Māori view much like there is no one New Zealand view, or even Euro New Zealand view. But it is possible to get a majority Māori perspective as is the case with any other cultural or ethnic advisory or representative group.”
Taiuru noted that a minority could get a lot of air time if there was a good story and many reporters did not investigate.
He gave the example of the backlash against Air New Zealand and its application to protect  its in-flight magazine logo that included the word “Kia Ora” ( IPONZ Case number 1120963).
The application was approved. 
“If you understand the law and look at the application, it is a logo to be used only on certain publications. The IPONZ decision was correct under law and culturally.” 
But Taiuru said one person created a false story that news media and some prominent Māori latched on to, claiming the airline wanted to trademark the word “Kia ora” so that no one else could use it.
   Taiuru clarified and further explained some issues in response to a follow-up email:   
      • Am I correct in my understanding that a business’s copyright and branding should require no changing, once it has been considered by your committee and been given IPONZ approval? 
“Some people might raise objections subsequently, but the IPONZ authorisation (with the MAC’s blessing where cultural considerations have been taken into account) should secure the branding against a vexatious campaign of criticism.
“We don’t have jurisdiction over copyright, just the TradeMark. But one would assume the applicant has Copyright anyway. 
“But, Yes, that is correct.
“There is also an option for an applicant to ask the MAC to review their decision to be reviewed if the applicant believes the MAC declined a decision on the wrong grounds or of the applicant has new proof to submit. The statute also states the Commissioner may override the MAC. The MAC is also fully discoverable via an OIA request. The whole process is transparent and thorough.” 
      • But the fabricated word “indiginous” has not been an issue for your committee.  I assume, therefore, that the company does not have to change it (although it has said it will be doing so regardless)?
“The logo with the word ‘indiginous’ sourced from the public web site was approved as per public web site and it meets the criteria to go to the MAC. Yes.”
Point of Order went back to news reports on the “kia ora” controversy involving Air New Zealand.   
RNZ reported Māori Council executive director Matthew Tukaki criticised the application for the trademark of Kia Ora as an insult to Māori culture.
“I am sick and tired of cultural appropriation and in fact all Māori are – our language is a national treasure for all of us and we need to respect it.
“It’s not here for business to use it and profit from it as they see fit,” he said.
Tukaki warned the chief executive of Air New Zealand, Christopher Luxon, that Māori would boycott the airline if the “hoha/nonsense” continued.
When Air New Zealand withdrew its bid to trademark the logo, Lynell Tuffery Huria, from the International Trade Mark Association, said she was pleased the airline had listened to the call from iwi leaders to protect taonga Māori.
“We’ve been raising this issue for a long time so it’s really great to see them supporting that kaupapa …it just provides more support to what Māori have been saying for a long time.”
She said there was still a lot to do in terms of protecting Māori intellectual property. 
Non-Māori businesses, too, eh?
Bob Edlin is a veteran journalist and editor for the Point of Order blog HERE.


Ray S said...

A very good article. It shows how scared we have become of being labelled racist. As far as Gin is concerned, I venture to suggest that the average Maori would read nothing into the word "indiginous" on a bottle or on anything else for that matter. It seems to me that there are two standards here, first there is offence taken at anything that hints of anything Maori, secondly, it seems no offence is taken with mainstream New Zealand trying to speak Maori. AS far as language is concerned, making maori language compulsory is not too far away.

Anonymous said...

Maori have no problem appropriating other cultures styles, Rap and Reggae come to mind, We are expected to learn maori and speak it with the right accents, I would prefer it if I wasnt forced to appropriate maori, it isnt my language and has no place in or on typically English institutions, inventing words to suit things and institutions they have no history. or authority in. Kowtowing to their demands is unreasonable and should stop immediately. Their arrogance knows no bounds, seems they want it all ways that suit them

Max Ritchie said...

We’re all becoming very precious. Well, some of us are. This cuts both ways of course. Listening to some young people mangling my language might also be offensive. Except that 1. I’m not going to be precious and 2. It’s a free country - if they want to ruin their chances of getting a job, go for it. But don’t complain about an honest attempt to make a buck and, importantly, pay the taxes which support those who do not pay tax.

Alan said...

What a lot of nonsense! Are not all races indigenous to somewhere? Even though maori are not indigenous to NZ (their own fokelore acknowledges settlement from elsewhere) they are like the rest of us indigenous to somewhere!

Russell said...

Trade Marks Māori Advisory Committee and the Patents Māori Advisory Committee. My god, just how many trough feeders are we paying for?

Mike L. said...

Maybe all those protesting part-Maori could advise us what proportion of Maori blood they have, and why the minor proportion should mean so much to them rather than the major proportion. I would like to suggest that it is time that some budding academic investigates why this happens, and what distinguishes these protesting people from the bulk of Maori who just get on with life enjoying all those things which European culture has produced. As do the majority of all people in this country.

Allan said...

I was asked by a brown person [ not a Maori ] When are you whites going to grow a backbone & stand up to the people who claim to be, but are not indigenous. They arrived as immigrants by their own admission. They blame colonialism for all of their 'problems', when in fact they were a stone-age people who had not even invented the wheel before Europeans arrived, which has since given them the technology such as facebook that they use for complaining not complimenting. So forget the P C nonsense & start being honest with these people who claim to be indigenous when they certainly are not..

Maximillian said...

Let's take that to its logical conclusion. Maori taking advantage of social welfare, scientific medicine, music, KFC, western clothing, guitars, and using the English language are all examples of cultural appropriation.
I find it difficult to get my head around the pressure being brought for everyone to learn and use te Reo Maori. Is this not cultural appropriation of the highest order?