US store accused of cultural appropriation over temporary Māori tattoos

A US store is being criticised for selling temporary tattoos it claims are "authentic Māori" designs.

A cultural and intellectual property specialist says it's "culturally offensive" and a "misappropriation" of Māori cultural expression, and he hopes the Government will take action to stop these incidents from happening.

California-based company Tinsley Transfers specialises in tattoos and piercings, and claims its "Māori tattoo" product is "based on tribal tattooing done by the native New Zealand tribes".

The facial stick-on tattoo is for sale online for US$7.99 (NZ$11.62).

Maui Solomon, a lawyer specialising in cultural and intellectual property rights, says the company's product is "culturally offensive".

"It misrepresents the true meaning of what ta moko stands for, which is something that people wear with pride and as a marker of their identity and whakapapa. So to use that in the context which it's being used, namely for a Halloween mask is not only culturally offensive it's a misappropriation of a traditional cultural expression which is the cultural and intellectual property of Māori in New Zealand," he told Newshub.

"It's not a question of the culture and images not being used by others, but they should engage with Māori and go through a proper process and if there's going to be commercial use of those images then it needs to be approved by an authority here in New Zealand."

Mr Solomon said this issue is at the heart of the recommendations issued by the Waitangi Tribunal in its Wai 262 report in 2011. It recommended that a commission be set up in New Zealand to advise on appropriate or derogatory use of Māori symbols and imagery.

He hopes the new Government will take the recommendations more seriously than the previous Government which he says "pretty much ignored it for the last six years" and put up a "wall of silence".  

Mr Solomon said Māori culture and identity is a positive part of the Aotearoa New Zealand brand internationally and it's important that it is not cheapened or denigrated.

"The rip off of Māori culture and art is just going to continue unabated unless there's some process and mechanisms put in place in order to properly manage that process."

Tinsley Transfers has been approached for comment.