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  • Writer's pictureHawai'i House Democrats


Honolulu, Hawaiʻi – In light of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the House last Thursday adopted HCR108, urging the formation of a working group to study policies and legislation with respect to Native Hawaiian intellectual property. The resolution represents efforts to protect the intellectual property rights of Kānaka Maoli, as well as their cultural expressions, language, and art form.

Introduced by Representative Darius K. Kila, the measure calls for the creation of a nine-member working group consisting of experts in Native Hawaiian law, indigenous intellectual property, or Native Hawaiian cultural customs and art, or Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners. Support testimony was submitted by the State Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Hawaiʻi County Council, the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, and advocates in the Native Hawaiian community.

"There is a kuleana for us to address the global cultural appropriation that has occurred in various forms of language, art, hula, and traditions," said Representative Darius K. Kila (D-44 Honokai Hale, Nānākuli, Mā‘ili). "For years, we've observed mainland companies opening businesses and using a Hawaiian name to increase sales, despite having no connection to our culture. This is why we are beginning the discussion on how to safeguard and preserve Native Hawaiian culture, and prevent its tokenization."

Rep. Kila noted that disputes between indigenous peoples and third-party users of indigenous knowledge resources over ownership and control have steadily increased in the last ten years. A recent example includes a non-Hawaiian food chain that originated in Chicago, Aloha Poke Co., which issued cease-and-desist letters threatening small poke food shops in Hawaiʻi from using the words "Aloha" and "Poke", claiming ownership of these cultural expressions.

Daryl Fujiwara of the Maui Council of the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs provided testimony in strong support of HCR108 stating, "as a practitioner of hula and hana noʻeau as well as [a] music producer, I can attest that Native Hawaiian Intellectual Property abuses and disputes are increasing. These Intellectual Property abuses adversely impact Kānaka Maoli culture which the State has a fiduciary responsibility to uphold and protect. However, the State currently lacks the legal framework to support Native Hawaiian Intellectual Property."

In 2018, The Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs passed Resolution 2018-43 urging the Hawaiʻi State Legislature to fund and establish a Native Hawaiian Intellectual Property Task Force to develop a sui generis legal system to recognize and protect Native Hawaiian cultural intellectual property, traditional cultural expressions, and genetic resources.

The concept of preserving intellectual property is prevalent throughout groups of indigenous people who have developed strategies and frameworks to protect their collective intellectual property rights. Various groups include the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, which is federally funded through the United States Department of the Interior, the Toi Iho registered trademark for the Maori art and artists funded through a charitable trust, and the Alaska State Council on the Arts Silver Hand Program for Alaska Native artists funded through the state.

Hawaiʻi County Councilmember Dr. Holeka Goro Inaba (D-8 North Kona) also provided testimony on the measure in support stating, "building on the work of those who have come before us, this proposed group can first, identify significant issues, articulate culturally appropriate solutions, and provide meaningful next steps toward resolving these issues."

Now that HCR108 HD1 SD1 has been adopted, certified copies of the measure will be transmitted to the Governor, Chief Executive Officer of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Dean of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa William S. Richardson School of Law, Director of the Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law, Dean of the Kawaihuelani Center for Hawaiian Language, Interim Executive Director of the Hawai‘i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, Executive Director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, Board of Directors of Kāhuli Leo Le‘a, and President of the ‘Ihikapalaumaewa Foundation.

"My goal is for all of us to get on board to make this happen. Preserving the Native Hawaiian culture remains a top priority for my community and my ʻohana," said Rep. Kila.



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