Indigenous Cultural Heritage Should Only Be Marketed by People of That Group

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8th Feb 2020 Cultural Studies Reference this

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Introduction –

I chose this statement because I have noticed this past semester the increase of cultural appropriation of Māori and Indigenous culture and tradition from those who are outside of these groups.  The commodification of our taonga and intellectual property is sometimes sold without permission. It is even more alarming when the ‘seller’ has little to no understanding of the tikanga, whakapapa, history or mātauranga of the taonga and intellectual property. 

This essay will discuss (1) definitions of cultural and intellectual property rights; (2) what is cultural appropriation; (3) who gains from the commodification and cultural appropriation of indigenous culture, taonga and intellectual property, (4) provide personal examples of where I have seen the cultural appropriation of things sacred to me have been exploited and misused; and (5) solution(s) to stop the commodification and appropriation of indigenous culture.

I will then finish this essay by concluding whether the statement “Indigenous cultural heritage should only be marketed by people of that group” is accurate.

Cultural and intellectual property rights –

The Treaty of Waitangi, Article 3 of the Māori version states that Māori should have “unqualified exercise of their chieftainship over their lands, villages and all their treasures”. I think this means that Māori would maintain ownership and control over all its taonga, including its indigenous culture and intellectual property.

In 1993, the Mataatua Declaration on Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights of Indigenous People was written in Whakatāne with 29 recommendations about the “protection, preservation and revitalization of their traditional intellectual and cultural properties”.  Section one was about what indigenous peoples are responsible for.  Section two was about the role and responsibilities of the State including acknowledging that indigenous peoples are the guardians of their customary knowledge and have the right to determine when it is appropriate to use it.  Section three was about recommendations to the United Nations in monitoring and protecting indigenous people’s rights to their cultural and intellectual property.

The United Nations in 2008 adopted the “Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”.  Articles 11, 12, and 13 relate to maintaining, protecting, developing, revitalising, controlling, and using their own cultures, ceremonies, languages, histories, traditions and customs.  Article 31 summarises this best “Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions”.

The Cambridge Dictionary (2018) defines Cultural Appropriation as “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture”.

In Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language”.  While this says that we as Māori or Indigenous peoples can enjoy our right to our culture, what it does not say is those people that are non-māori or non-indigenous are not excluded from also enjoying our culture.

Commodification and cultural appropriation of indigenous culture, taonga and intellectual property –

There are four types of people who appropriate (for sale) indigenous culture, taonga and intellectual property. 

The first (“group one”) are those from within the ‘group’ who have learned the mātauranga about the taonga and know the culture, tikanga, whakapapa and history.  These people know not to offend or compromise the tikanga or the knowledge that was passed onto them.  This group of people are permitted to appropriate the indigenous culture, taonga and intellectual property, and within certain conditions commodify it for economic, social and environmental benefit.

The second (“group two”) type of people are those from within the ‘group’ who do not have (or have very little) mātauranga about the taonga or its culture, tikanga, whakapapa and history.  This group might compromise the tikanga of the taonga because they have not received the knowledge.  This group of people might receive permission to appropriate the indigenous culture, taonga and intellectual property but would have conditions imposed about its use and intent.  If the people within this group do not have permission to appropriate the indigenous culture, taonga and intellectual property then they can be seen to be misappropriating the culture for their own personal gain.

The third (“group three”) type of persons are those from outside the ‘group’ who have learnt the mātauranga about the taonga and know the culture, tikanga, whakapapa and history.  These persons could include those who have been whangai’d into a whanau and may not be indigenous.  These people might be given permission to appropriate some or all the indigenous culture, taonga and intellectual property, but they would have conditions imposed about its use and intent. 

The last (“group four”) group of people are those from outside the ‘group’ who have no knowledge about the taonga and do not know the culture, tikanga, whakapapa and history of the taonga and intellectual property.  It is this group of people who are most likely to appropriate and commodify our indigenous culture, taonga and intellectual property for their own person gain and without the appropriate permission.

Mead (1996) identified that the commercialisation of Māori taonga such as “koru on the tail of Air New Zealand planes” is acceptable because the airline is a national carrier, however it would not be acceptable if the airline were foreign owned and based outside of Aotearoa.   Mead also says that the “public appropriates Māori art to satisfy the needs of individuals within it”.  I have taken this to mean that when any tangible or intangible taonga is believed to be ‘saleable’ and money can be made off of that sale, then individuals whether they are indigenous or not, may decide that appropriating it (if it is not protected by Copyright or trademarks) is acceptable.  Sometimes a person’s individual consciousness relating to personal gain outweighs the ethical and moral appropriateness of using culture in an in appropriate way.

Culture is not normally ‘trademarked or copyrighted’.  In western culture the ‘norm’ has been to consider tangible assets or intangible intellectual property as a brand that should be protected from commercialisation.  According to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (2017), creating a trademark or copyright can “create market advantages…attract investment…protect your reputation…minimise the influence of competitor products or services…and be a point of differentiation for your products or services to the market”.

Personal examples of where I have seen the cultural appropriation of things sacred to me have been exploited and misused –

While I was growing up I didn’t realise that many taonga that connect Māori to their identity had been copyrighted or trademarked as ‘intellectual property’ and was now owned by ‘someone/something’.  Sometimes the intellectual property did not always belong to an individual but sometimes to an organisation. 

I had been taught that the collective ‘Māori’ (whanau, hapū or Iwi) were the kaitiaki of the following:

  • Māori Mātauranga (Māori knowledge)
  • Taonga (Māori carvings)
  • Whakapapa (Geneology)
  • Rongoa Māori (Māori medicine).

An example I have of my Māori cultural heritage being marketed by all four groups (group one, two, three and four) is Māori Haka.  The Haka is performed by cultural groups.  In group one these performers would know our Māori language, be from a whanau, hapū or iwi, have knowledge of our culture and be taught the history of the haka and what it represents.  An example of these groups is those that perform at Te Matatini and those at Kura Kaupapa Māori schools where Te Reo Māori is there first language.  In group two, this cultural group could be Māori, but have only learnt the haka from watching the All Blacks and therefore do not understand what the haka means.  Group three could be non-Māori who have learnt haka at Kōhanga reo, kura Kaupapa or if they have been raised in a Māori environment that teaches haka.  This group of people would be accepted within a kapa haka group.  The last group could be those who have watched the All Blacks perform, and copy this.  When the All Blacks go overseas and play against other nations, sometimes we see on TV non-māori imitating the All Blacks and sometimes getting it wrong.

The false advertising of our Māori culture by western society to make it more commercially acceptable reduces the value of it in the eyes of many Māori.   This need for the western society to have power and control over our Māori culture is another form of assimilation.

Solution(s) to stop the commodification and appropriation of indigenous culture

I believe one solution is for all Māori (group one and group two) to come together as a national body collective to have “unqualified exercise of their chieftainship over their indigenous culture” as intended in the Treaty of Waitangi.  The national body collective would be kaitaiki to ensure our indigenous culture is not exploited or misappropriated.  The government should provide legislation that allow for penalties against individuals or businesses to be imposed if it is found that they have exploited or misappropriated our indigenous culture.  These penalties should be similar to the way trademark and copyright operates.

Conclusion –

Through my research I believe that having an understanding of our indigenous culture as well as having knowledge of tikanga, whakapapa and our history are necessary.  Also, that people who use our indigenous culture do not offend or compromise the tikanga of that culture.  Lastly, I believe that “Indigenous cultural heritage can be marketed by people who have gained the appropriate permission from a suitable collective body who are knowledgeable in our language, culture and identity”.

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