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'Absolutely appalling': French lawyers accused of cultural appropriation after protest haka

Newshub logoNewshub 24/01/2020 James Fyfe
a group of people standing in front of a crowd posing for the camera © Provided by Newshub

A group of French lawyers protesting pension reforms with a haka has caused outrage online. 

Video of the protest was shared on Twitter on Thursday, showing the group - clad in black legal robes and red ties - attempting to perform the traditional Māori dance.

STEAM Māori cultural adviser Karaitiana Taiuru told Newshub it was "absolutely appalling" and "disturbing" behaviour.

"There is no excuse in this modern age to claim ignorance with appropriating and mocking other people's culture.

"I would expect that the group make an open letter apology to Māori and New Zealanders who identify with the Haka.

"This is a racist stereotype that has been perpetuated over generations of settlers from Europe in order to justify their own criminal actions."

The lawyers have been fighting since January 6 to defend their current pension plan against proposed reforms. So far, they have mixed traditional protest techniques - such as staging marches and waving banners - with more novel ways, such as producing viral videos and organising flash mobs, reports France 24. 

But their latest act may have gone too far, with the group accused of cultural appropriation. 

"Yikes! Way to look like colonial racists stuck in the 1950s," wrote one person on Twitter in response to the video.

"It is so wrong," wrote someone else. "It is offensive to Māori and their cultural heritage." 

Another summed up the situation in more blunt terms, writing: "Oi! Leave our stuff alone, bro!"

The video also sparked an opinion piece in The Guardian, with Morgan Godfrey calling it a "protest gimmick, a way to jimmy up attention". 

In discussing when the performance of a haka is cultural appropriation, Godfrey suggests asking "does the performance maintain the haka's integrity?"

"I appreciate that – at least in the sense haka can take form in a protest. But it isn’t, as some Europeans and North Americans seem to understand it, an act of unrestrained id. It isn’t necessarily just an outlet for anger," writes Godfrey. 

"Until Europeans and North Americans can drop that (probably racist) idea that haka is all about releasing anger, one general rule applies: don’t perform a haka you were never given permission to. That’s the best way to preserve its mana and mauri."

The performance was certainly not the first time people have been accused of the cultural appropriation of Māori culture.

Last year Air New Zealand sparked a backlash when it tried to trademark the use of "kia ora" for its inflight magazine. 

The airline applied to the New Zealand Intellectual Property Office to trademark the logo of its magazine, which uses the greeting.

In its application, the company said it was "simply about protecting the logo".

"This is the logo for the magazine title. It's standard corporate practice to have all our logos trademarked and we have just started the process given Kia Ora has recently been through a refresh," a spokesperson said.

The move was not viewed favourably, with Māori Council executive director Matthew Tukaki saying it was an "insult to all Māori and all New Zealanders".

Air New Zealand eventually dropped its bid to trademark the logo in face of the objections.

RELATED: Dramatic photos of protests through the years

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