Hawaii moves to protect its cultural heritage after Aloha Poke controversy

Photo: Elena_Danileiko (iStock)

When last we told you about a Chicago chain called Aloha Poke, Hawaiians were none too pleased. This growing, successful restaurant brand was drawing lines of 30 minutes or more when it first opened. Then it assumed ownership of usage of the name “Aloha,” and began sending cease-and-desist letter to other restaurants using the word, even to businesses predating Aloha Poke. One shop the Chicago Aloha Poke was going after: Aloha Poke Shop in Honolulu, which maintained that it would not change its name. This led to a fierce backlash on social media, especially among Hawaiians. The fury extended to where most of these backlashes manifest—in the form of one-star reviews on Yelp (the Chicago chain is still averaging four stars, that being said).

Now the Associated Press is reporting that spurred by the Aloha Poke situation, legislators in Hawaii are now hoping to create legal protections for “Hawaiian cultural intellectual property and traditional cultural expressions.” The AP says lawmakers are proposing to create a task force that would create a legal system within three years. The protections would include not only native Hawaiian words, but images and “genetic resources,” such as taro. As one supporter of the legislation said: “It’s traumatic when things like this happen to us—when people try to take, modify or steal what’s been in our people’s world view for generations.”

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The legislation passed the Hawaiian state House last week and will be up to a Senate vote on Monday.

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About the author

Kevin Pang

Kevin Pang was the founder and editor-in-chief of The Takeout, and director of the documentary For Grace on Netflix.