Thursday, October 22, 2009

toi iho/Maori made

The trademark initiated to promote Maori arts and crafts - Toi Iho - has been scrapped by its State agent, Creative New Zealand. I wrote a paper on Geographical Indicators some time ago (June 2004 I'm surprised to see...). I think it is an area worth more attention.

Concerns over intellectual property issues expressed by Maori seem to be lie primarily within patent/copyright/trademark tradition, although Plant Variety Rights feature in the Wai 262 claim. In February 2002 a trademark was created by Creative New Zealand to ‘maintain the integrity’ of Maori art, and to assist in promoting this art and recognised artists nationally and internationally. The toi iho™ trademark marks a significant development in Maori IP. The mark is restricted to works by artists (individuals or groups) who are of Maori descent and whose work is of acknowledged quality (Creative NZ, 2004). The trademark is in many ways a response to Maori embarrassment and anger at blatant ‘rip offs’ in the tourism industry but should equally be interpreted as efforts by ‘Brand NZ Inc.’ to secure added value production for the New Zealand economy.

As in Europe, it is the wine and gourmet foods sectors that provide the most sophisticated examples. Tohu Wines has proven a successful brand for Wakatu Inc./Wi Pere Trust/Ngati Rarua Atiawa Iwi Trust to market $4 million of wine, principally to U.K. and U.S. consumers (Tohu Wines, 2004). In the words of James Wheeler, CEO, the main point of difference for their marketing is “being Maori…it makes their experience of our product superior” (Anon, 2003: 25). The attributes of ‘freshness’ and ‘naturalness’ have been attached to other Maori agri-food ventures, often embedded in organic practices; seafood is a significant example, especially in the South Island. Medicinal products stemming from traditional herbal remedies also feature; Tairawhiti Pharmaceuticals have commercially developed a product based on manuka oil that is unique to the region (Cooper, 1995; Cooke and Cooke, n.d.; Tairawhiti Pharmaceuticals, 2004). It is becoming apparent that ‘Maoriness’ is a component of added value, not just for the country as an ‘eco-destination’, but for individual hapu and iwi land-based ventures.

My reasoning for explicitly connecting hapu and iwi land-based industries to what is now a global intellectual property regime via Geographical Indicators is based on sustainability theories that likewise link local communities – their biotic resources and knowledge thereof, as well as lifestyles and livelihoods – to global sustainability, i.e. the actual continuation of human civilisation (with the presumed added benefit of increasing social justice along the way; see Goodman and Redclift, 1991; Berkes et al., 2003). My position is also based on a pragmatic realisation that while it is easy to clench a fist against global capitalism, it’s very hard to turn down extra money when this thing called moni solves so many mundane problems.

The continued growth of cultural and agricultural industries will see ongoing contests for property rights, not just over physical resources but for the ephemeral concepts of intellectual property; the phenomenon has been termed yet another ‘enclosure’ of a global commons (May, 2000). These contests are played out along extended networks that incorporate both social and technical elements. For indigenous peoples, these ‘sociotechnical’ networks have always been difficult to negotiate from a position that is in many ways subversive to state and corporate organisations from the outset. Although concerns ranging from access to markets and trade disparities to food safety and social justice issues, affect and afflict people of all nations, the negative impacts fall disproportionately on the poor. This is a challenge to Maori development that is geared towards that great Brand Kiwi tradition, pampering the puku of the global rich (see Ingrid D. Rowland's review of Feast: A History of Grand Eating by Roy Strong for an insight into the global history of this bioculture...)

That both cultural and biological diversity present themselves as not only desirable but necessary for the long-term survival of the human race underpins important discourses on sustainability. The philosophical position on the appropriation of wealth from the sheer novelty of indigenous food and drink is worthy of more serious discussion. The opportunity for indigenous land owners anywhere to state their commitment to sustainable methods cannot be denied. If this commitment can then justify a premium price in a global market - given that a global aesthetic as well as simple survival is dependent on economically marginal peoples - that is to be applauded.

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Simon Lambert

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