Team starts work to combat appropriation of Hawaiian culture

June 24, 2024 CTY Star-Advertiser photo by Craig T. Kojima CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM. A new 9-member working group to propose ways to protect Native Hawaiian intellectual property is convening its first meeting. Vicky Holt Takamine, left, and Elena Farden.

Seven Native Hawaiian leaders in areas including culture and law convened an inaugural meeting Monday of a legislative group aiming to protect Hawaiian intellectual property from insulting and harmful use.

The group, chaired by kumu hula Vicky Holt Takamine, is specifically tasked with submitting recommendations to state lawmakers, including draft legislation, and also could involve action to be taken at the federal level where U.S. trademark and copyright law is governed.


Formation of the Native Hawaiian Intellectual Property Working Group was driven in part by Chicago­-based healthy fast-food franchise Aloha Poke Co. threatening legal action for trademark infringement in 2018 against similarly named businesses that included at least one in Hawaii.

“The group was formed out of the constant negligence of folks abusing and taking advantage of the Native Hawaiian culture,” state Rep. Darius Kila (D, Nanakuli-­Maili), one of three nonvoting members from the state Legislature added Monday to the original nine-member group, said during a news conference after the meeting.

More examples of the issue cited by Takamine included Disney copyrighting a song in its 2002 movie “Lilo &Stitch” derived from two old Hawaiian songs, and more recently a company claiming ownership of the word “‘okina” in a certain context.

Kailua-based Okina Kitchen LLC obtained a registered trademark for ‘Okina in 2020 for baking batter mixes, according to a filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

“Everyone in Hawaii understands that if someone from the mainland copyrights or trademarks the name ‘aloha’ and then tries to force local people here to pay to use it, that’s just not going to work,” said state Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole (D, Kaneohe-Kailua), another nonvoting member. “So part of this working group and the convening of it is a recognition that just because a federal law dictates a practice in a certain way doesn’t mean that we have to stand for it here.”

Monday’s meeting, attended by seven of the nine voting members and held in a conference room at the state Capitol, was largely organizational, with a vote naming Takamine as chair and scheduling the next two meetings for July 15 and 30.

Members also discussed the scope of their work and a deadline to deliver a report with recommendations to the Legislature by Dec. 6, which is a little more than five months away and 40 days before the start of 2025’s legislative session.

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