Action urged over pop song's karakia misappropriation

1:11 pm on 29 November 2018

The use of a Māori karakia in a Korean pop song has ramped up calls for the government to step up and protect Māori intellectual property. With some saying that cultural appropriation of Māoritanga is getting out of hand.

"Tūturu o whiti whakamaua kia tina": the rippling Māori chant marks the start of the latest hit from Korean boy band NCT 127 entitled Simon Says.

The video clip has been viewed about seven million times since in the past week, but it's an uneasy watch for Karaitiana Taiuru.

"I was little bit shocked and disappointed, because of the words that were used... It is a karakia and to me our karakia was being mocked," he said.

Mr Taiuru is a Māori digital expert and a member of the Māori Trademark Advisory Committee.

"There is a number of cultural issues there for Māori, especially considering our karakia is a way of speaking with the atua.

"It is not to be taken lightly and appropriated in the manner it was."

Committee member and researcher Aroha Mead said it was great that people wanted to share the Māori culture, but it became a problem when it was taken without permission or understanding.

She said karakia was used to close a discussion, so using it at the start of the song was telling.

"That already gives you a sense that they haven't researched it," she said.

"What we see in the entertainment industry, and in the fashion industry, is that they just take it.

"The scale of the problem is getting completely out of hand and overwhelming, because this is not happening once a year, this is happening almost on a weekly basis."

At the moment, others can commercialise Māori works without consent or acknowledgement, and there is little or no protection against derogatory uses of Māori art.

In 2011, the Waitangi Tribunal released a report on the Wai 262 claim, highlighting the problem and calling for protection of Māori intellectual property.

But Ms Mead said seven years on and the Crown has not responded.

Aroha Mead says the process has not been respectful.

Aroha Mead Photo: Victoria University

"Clearly there is a lot of disappointment that the Crown has not responded to the Waitangi Tribunal report.

"This highlights that we don't have a right in New Zealand yet when it comes to Māori intellectual property rights, and this really needs to be made more of a priority."

Lawyer Maui Solomon represented Wai 262 claimants, and was one of 300 at a hui in Nelson about the problem in September.

"To have a substantial report with substantial and significant findings just to be completely ignored, I think people at the hui thought that was pretty shameful," he said.

"This song from this Korean band is just a reminder that something needs to be done sooner rather than later."

He said Māori were missing out on royalties from overseas companies, and called for a Māori Commission with powers to police intellectual property.

"If others from outside the culture want to use it then they need to ask prior permission to use it.

'And if there is a commercial aspect as there is undoubtedly in this song, then there should be a contribution towards the promotion of the culture and the reo."

The Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta said the government could do more to protect Matauranga Māori and how it was used today.

She said work was underway to propose an approach to addressing these matters and more information would come once cabinet had made a decision.