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Trademark Dispute Revives Discussion of Native Hawaiian Rights

Protests are being planned in Chicago following Aloha Poke Company’s push to trademark the words “aloha poke.” While the controversy may have hit a sore spot for some in the native Hawaiian community, it has also sparked a conversation about protecting native Hawaiian rights to intellectual property. HPR Reporter Ku?uwehi Hiraishi has more.

Kumu Hula Vicky Holt-Takamine says she wasn’t surprised to hear that a Chicago-based poke restaurant chose to enforce its trademark on the words “aloha poke”.

“People are going to appropriate our cultural practices regardless of whether we like it or not,” says Holt-Takamine, “Western law cannot, does not protect the rights of indigenous peoples.”

She says, what’s seen as a common business practice under western law, could be seen as a threat to some in the native Hawaiian community.

“When you start to infringe on other native Hawaiians’ rights to use it, that’s when you’re in trouble,” says Holt-Takamine.

Holt-Takamine says protecting the intellectual property rights of native Hawaiians has been a struggle but the foundation is there.

She helped organize a conference back in 2003 that resulted in a declaration of rights. The Paoakalani Declaration was acknowledged in a resolution by the state in 2004 but no action has been taken to codify any part of it. She says it’s a hard sell.

“Again, you know we’re only less than 20 percent of the population of Hawai?i and even just a minute part of the whole United States,” says Holt-Takamine, “You think they?re going to support native Hawaiians on this issue when it means that it will infringe on their rights toprivatize.” 

In the meantime, she plans to fly up to Aloha Poke’s home turf to share the declaration at a march and rally in downtown Chicago next Monday. Lanialoha Lee, a third-generation native Hawaiian transplantliving in Chicago, is helping plan the march. 

“The march will hopefully raise more awareness in the downtown business district,” says Lee, “The route will allow us to pass the state building, the Thompson Building, City Hall…all before we get to Aloha Poke.”

Lee is also the Executive Director of the Aloha Center Chicago, aHawaiian culturalcenter.

“We really need to send a message that this issue of trying to copyright and trademark another culture’s language is such a wrong,” says Lee, “Thisterm represents a people, it?s a culture, it?s a way of life.” 

She was grateful for the continued support of the native Hawaiian community here in Hawai’i.

“Native Hawaiians up here care and that their mana?o is in good hands over here and we will do our best to keep the aloha moving forward,” says Lee.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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