Getting Worse: The Office Of Hawaiian Affairs Jumps Into The Aloha Poke Situation As Chicago Chain Stonewalls
from the culture-schlock dept
It’s been a week or so since we last checked in on the Aloha Poke situation, so perhaps you were wondering how things were coming along with the Chicago chain that wasn’t founded by Hawaiians attempting to bully native Hawaiian poke joints across the country out of using their own language and culture over trademark concerns. You will recall that Aloha Poke Co. had sent cease and desist notices to many poke restaurants that dared to use the ubiquitous Hawaiian term “Aloha” in their names, including to proprietors on the Hawaiian Islands themselves. That many operations throughout the country had been chugging along sharing this name and food culture without issue apparently didn’t prevent Aloha Poke Co. from registering “Aloha Poke” as a trademark and then go the bullying route. The last touchstone in all of this was a hundreds-strong planned protest at the company’s headquarters in Chicago, which indeed ended up happening.
So, how have things gone since? Well, Aloha Poke Co. appears to be simply digging in its heels and trying to ride this storm out rather than backing down, but it’s a strategy that doesn’t appear to be working all that well. Just this week, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, an organization that promotes and protects Hawaiian culture, has jumped into the fray, both voicing its displeasure at Aloha Poke Co.’s bullying and essentially filling up its homepage with news about the protests.
In a statement, OHA CEO Kamana’opono Crabbe described the attitude of OHA as “appalled” over the food chain’s trademarks, which uses culturally significant words from ‘?lelo Hawai’i, the traditional native Hawaiian language.
OHA also asserted that they were currently contacting prominent stakeholders to “discuss possible solutions” to the trademark controversy.
The organisation went on to highlight the continuous “commercialisation and exploitation” of traditional Hawaiian culture that hinders attempts to preserve customs and languages in an appropriate manner.
As we’ve said in past posts, the concerns about cultural appropriation, particularly in light of the subsequent bullying, are valid and very real, but the better route to victory against Aloha Poke Co. is almost certainly legal arguments over its trademark more generally. Whatever you might think of this sort of cultural appropriation, it seems obvious to me that the United States government and its USPTO wing are not sure-fire candidates for swaying on arguments that big business isn’t treating natives all that well. Backing that statement up for citation purposes is: history.
Instead, we should be seeing as many or more arguments that the term “Aloha” is, as stated, ubiquitous and non-identifying, whereas the term “poke” simply refers to the goods sold at these establishments. Marrying a generic term with a name of a product you can’t trademark obviously doesn’t create a valid trademark.
But none of that is to suggest that efforts to gin up anger over the appropriation side of this doesn’t have a place in getting Aloha Poke Co. to reverse course on its bullying. Public shaming does indeed work and it’s good to see that the company’s current strategy of waiting out the anger simply isn’t working.
In other words: Dear Aloha Poke Co., it’s probably time to cut your losses and issue a mea culpa.