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Maori challenge Lego over use of culture

New Zealand's Maori are increasingly moving to protect their culture  

By CNN's Grant Holloway and wire services

WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- Three New Zealand Maori tribes are considering a legal challenge to Danish toy company Lego over the use of Maori words and Polynesian culture in a new computer game.

New Zealand-based barrister Solomon Maui has written to Lego asking for sales of the game to be suspended, saying it infringed the Polynesian people's intellectual property rights to their language and culture.

The game, called Bionicle, is already being sold in Europe and will soon be released in the United States. It features characters with common Polynesian names such as Toa, Tohunga, Pohatu and Whenua which fight for the liberation of a tropical island called Mata Nui.

Maui is quoted in The Guardian saying the story line of the game also bears a strong resemblance to the traditional stories told by the Polynesian people of Rapa Nui, or Easter Island.

A spokesperson for Lego said the company was not interfering with the cultural heritage of Polynesian people and would not be withdrawing the game.

The use of Maori cultural symbols is increasingly being challenged internationally and in New Zealand, with lawyers such Maui leading the charge.

Declaration to protect cultural property

Maori groups protested recently against an advertisement featuring bekilted Scotsmen performing a Haka, or Maori battle challenge. Other Maori have objected to non-Maori, such as popular singer Robbie Williams, decorating themselves with Polynesian-style tattoos.

Maori tribes also issued the Mataatua Declaration in 1993 which was designed to protect the intellectual and cultural property rights of indigenous peoples. So far it has been signed by more than 200 groups.

The declaration also has been submitted to the United Nations, the Convention on Biological Diversity and to New Zealand's Waitangi Tribunal which rules on issues involving Maori rights in New Zealand, although it has not been legally adopted by any of those organizations.

New Zealand's 300,000 Maori represent the largest group of Polynesian islanders which include Hawaiians, Easter Islanders, Samoans and Tongans.

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