$28m fund to protect Maori intellectual and cultural rights ‘just one step’

Those behind a decades-long campaign to protect Maori intellectual and property rights say the government appears to be taking positive steps, although there is still a long way to go.

Activist Sheridan Waitai, right, with her late grandmother Saana Murray, an original Wai 262 claimant, Ngāti Kuri leader and poet.
Photo: Provided

Associate Minister for Maori Development, Nanaia Mahuta, announced nearly $28 million to help implement Wai 262 recommendations in legislation and public service as part of budget expenditures.

Wai 262 calls for protection and authority over native species, traditional knowledge, symbols, designs and other Maori cultural assets.

It was the first contemporary complaint lodged with the Waitangi tribunal in 1991. It sparked a 20-year investigation in which several of the original claimants and a chairman died.

The court issued its report, Ko Aotearoa Teneiin 2011. It recommended that the government set up a new commission to protect Māori cultural works from unauthorized commercial use.

He also recommended that laws relating to te reo Maori, resource management, patents and environmental protection be amended.

It was not until 2019 that the government published its first response to the complaint, https://www.tpk.govt.nz/en/a-matou-kaupapa/te-ao-maori/wai-262- te-pae-tawhiti

creating Te Pae Tawhiti to examine both legislation and the wider civil service.

- Pool - Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta during the post-Cabinet press conference with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Houses of Parliament, Wellington.  07 March 2022. NZ Herald photograph by Mark Mitchell

Nanaia Mahuta
Photo: Pool / NZME

Last week, Mahuta said the $27.6 million would be earmarked for Te Pae Tawhiti. She said it would support research and innovation in the Maori economy.

“Mātuaranga Māori and tāonga are unique to our national culture and identity. In order to continue to benefit from them, we need systems in place to ensure they retain their integrity and flourish for all in Aotearoa,” said Mahuta in a statement.

“By leveraging our unique culture and identity, early modeling models estimate that this work has the potential to bring up to $340 million to our Aotearoa Maori economy each year.”

Te Taumata Whakapūmau is an organization representing the whānau and iwi who brought the original Wai 262 claim. A spokesperson, Sheridan Waitai, said the funding was a welcome step after a decade of stops and starts.

“It’s been a long time with a lot of ebbs and flows. So when they made that announcement, it was just real pause and reflection.

“It’s the biggest and most complex claim in our history: it’s essentially our identity. It’s our identity claim and it activated the first whole-of-government inquiry. It’s about laws, policies , existing practices…it’s about looking at policy areas across multiple departments, it’s about legislative changes, policy reforms, all of those things.”

With that, Waitai said that while this announcement was welcome, it was only a step, with the work far from done, especially on the more transformational aspects.

She also said that it would not be an easy path.

One of the authors of the original claim was the late Maori scholar Moana Jackson, who, according to Waitai, warned against accepting “Crown-controlled dilution of intellectual property”, or the limitation of manaakitanga. to the “copyright ethos”.

“You have to remember he was so deliberate and intentional with what he even put in that statement and I guess the biggest challenge for us is there’s so much more mahi to do.”

Sheridan Waitai is the granddaughter of the late chief and poet Ngāti Kuri Saana Murray, one of the original seekers of Wai 262, who was also a prolific poet.

“I hear my grandmother say: What will become of me if my rivals claim victory? / Laws clawed like parasites, devouring my human rights / Anyway, who needs eternal conflict / ‘Cause I’ll find my own identity / even if I’m landless in my own country.

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