“We’ve got China producing, selling Maori arts and crafts as Maori made,” the treasurer of the Digital Maori forum, Llanasa Peachey (Dolores), told a crowd of 30 Indigenous technology experts from various industries across Australia.
“There’s a fine line between Maori inspired and Maori made.”
It’s a common frustration across Indigenous populations around the world - the exploitation of cultural intellectual property in the digital age - but it’s one that a network of Maori ICT specialists and entrepreneurs called the Digital Maori Forum (DMF) is tackling head on.
They believe the answer lies in a concept called ‘data sovereignty’.
“The digital revolution came along and it changed the whole world, it didn't just change [it for] Maori, it changed the way that we deliver and receive information,” says DMF Chairperson Rei Scaiascia.
“But if you own the infrastructure to deliver it from, then you have it secured. You have it in a place that's got accountability ... to our people, and it’s distributed from your own network”
Just one of the initiatives started by DMF member is EMaori, a new Indigenous online shopping portal that promotes authentic Maori creations by Maori providers.
Members have also set up three ICT hubs across New Zealand - digitising local history and culture, and providing free access to technology and training to communities.
Rei himself established Swiftnet- the first and only Maori business operating a broadband network.
He says one thing all these concepts have in common is the initiative to take an idea and get it started, despite a lack of funding.
“One of our major ones right now is Digital Natives Academy (DNA) that’s being produced… out of nothing, they had to do everything themselves,” he says.
DNA focuses on computer coding, programming and gaming which Llanasa Peachey (Dolores) hopes will eventually extend to design and animation, launching Maori gaming entrepreneurs.
“It’s essential to keep our Maori youth participating in the digital economy,” says Llanasa.
One of the big challenges, says Rei, is harnessing cultural intellectual property, not only for economic benefit, but to protect culture.
One example is the preservation of language, a large focus under the New Zealand government.
“They give a lot of money for preserving the language by teaching it…but at the end of the day that doesn’t include economic development with your own information- the protection comes in the distribution of it, in the security of it.”
Another big example is the Koru, a spiral Maori symbol symbolizing new life, strength, growth and peace, incorporated into the air new Zealand logo.
“The koru that’s on that aeroplane- that’s our information,” he says.
”It’s just an image, it’s a digital image but the point is, is that images mean something in our culture it’s part of what we believe in, but it doesn’t belong to use anymore because we signed some papers at an office.”
“We just didn’t know how to work with that, but now we do.”
While the ICT industry in Australia is much larger than New Zealand’s, Rei believes Indigenous Australia can learn from the skills-rich Maori ICT field.
“We both want this hive of activity happening for our people to develop- whether it be at one level which is just the learning level, up to entrepreneurial level, along to the business level, that’s what we both want.”
The National Indigenous Digital Excellence (IDX) summit runs from Wednesday April 27 to Friday April 29, 2016, at the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence, 166 – 180 George St, Redfern.