Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wai 262 - Genetic and Biological Resources of Taonga Species

Chapter Two of the Waitangi Tribunal’s Wai 262 report, Ko Aotearoa Tenei, addresses issues relating to genetic and biological resources in taonga species.  Consistent with the general tenor of the report, this chapter places the issues it addresses squarely in the context of two different worldviews, which, in this case, produce different approaches to science and scientific knowledge.  The key sections of the chapter address Te Ao Maori and Taonga Species; Te Ao Pakeha and Research Science; Bioprospecting, Genetic Modification, and Intellectual Property; the Rights of Kaitiaki in Taonga Species; and recommended Reforms.

As with other chapters, the kaitiaki relationship is to the fore and there are also a handful of other central concepts that the Tribunal uses.  ‘Taonga Species’ draws on the same ideas used in the definition of ‘Taonga Works’ in the preceding chapter.  Like Taonga Works, Taonga Species are defined by the matauranga Māori (Māori knowledge), whakapapa (genealogy), and kōrero tuku iho (stories and information transmitted from one generation to the next) that are associated with those species.  But in this case, the subject of the chapter is not artistic forms of cultural expression, but rather species of indigenous plants and animals.  The Tribunal examines some examples of Taonga Species in detail, including harakeke (flax), koromiko, pōhutukawa, kōwhai ngutukaka, puawānanga (NZ clematis), poroporo, mānuka, kūmara, and tuatara.  The Tribunal’s examination of these species illustrates the importance of Taonga Species as food sources, medicines, materials for construction and technological development, and a range of other purposes.

The chapter then goes on to consider the ways in which plant and animal species are understood and knowledge relating to them conceptualised within Western science and philosophy.  Though the Tribunal is careful to note that this should not be seen as a strict binary with no areas of overlap with te ao Māori.  The categorisation of plants and animals according to isolated characteristics within Western science is contrasted with the inter-connectedness identified through a Māori, relationship-based lens.  Ultimately, the values that underlie Western science determine where the balance between the public and private good derived from research ought to sit and leads to the development of the patent system. 

The Tribunal sees Bioprospecting, Genetic Modification, and Intellectual Property Rights as mechanisms which reflect different stages of the research process.  Bioprospecting is defined as “the search, extraction, and examination of biological material or its molecular, biochemical, or genetic content . . . for the purpose of determining its potential to yield a commercial product”.  Genetic modification is the process of changing in some way the genetic characteristics of an organism.  For example, the introduction of an insect-resistant gene into potatoes and other vegetables.  Intellectual Property Rights, such as patents, are “both the culmination of the research process and the starting point for commercial development”.  That is to say that patents are “assets that can be used to obtain finance to develop research into saleable commodities”.

Claimants raised concerns that bioprospecting can conflict with kaitiaki interests in a number of ways.  Other parties, it was argued, should not be able to use the traditional knowledge associated with Taonga Species to exploit the genetic or biological resources from those species without the consent of the kaitiaki.  Where bioprospecting was inconsistent with tikanga Māori, it would be harmful to the relationship between the kaitiaki and the Taonga Species. Some claimants were not opposed to the commercialisation of the knowledge associated with, or genetic or biological resources derived from, Taonga Species, so long as that was done in a way that was consistent with tikanga Māori and any commercial benefit was shared with the kaitiaki community.  The Tribunal notes that this would be consistent with moves in the international community to ensure Prior Informed Consent for the use of these species is gained from appropriate people and that there is some form of Access and Benefit Sharing arrangement in place.

In respect of genetic modification, the Tribunal notes that the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA), which is the body that makes decisions as to whether or not to approve the development or import of genetically modified materials, can and does seek advice from a specialist Māori committee.  However, the claimants contended that this committee has insufficient powers to ensure that Māori interests are properly weighted in ERMA’s decision-making.   The Tribunal recommend a number of changes to the law and policy regulating genetic modification aimed at ensuring appropriate priority is given to Māori interests and kaitiaki relationships.  Although the Tribunal suggests that the Māori committee that supports ERMA retain a primarily advisory role, it recommends that it appoint members to ERMA (that is, the decision-making body itself) and that the Māori committee, not ERMA, be the body that determines when specialist Māori advice is required.

Similarly, the Tribunal recommends the establishment of a Māori advisory body to the Commissioner of Patents.  Again, although the functions of this body would primarily be to advise the Commissioner, as with the ERMA committee, the advisory group itself ought to decide when its advice is relevant to an application.  One of its functions would be to advise the Commissioner that a patent should not be granted because it conflicts with a kaitiaki relationship.  Patent legislation, the Tribunal says, ought to enable the Commissioner to refuse registration of a patent on the grounds that it unduly interferes with a kaitiaki relationship with a Taonga Species.  This would not be inconsistent with international intellectual property law.  And, in keeping with the general themes of the report, the Tribunal also recommends a register be created of kaitiaki interests, based on the idea that kaitiaki should be able to proactively set out the nature of their relationships with Taonga Species.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Wai 262 - Intellectual Property and Taonga Works

Chapter 1 of the Wai 262 report, Ko Aotearoa Tenei, focuses on taonga and intellectual property and is consistent with the general approach the Tribunal has taken throughout this report.  The nature of particular kaitiaki relationships to particular taonga sits at the centre of this chapter and the reforms suggested by the Tribunal.  Although recognising the importance of assessing each kaitiaki relationship in its specific factual context on a case-by-case basis, this chapter provides clear direction about the principles that ought to guide such an assessment and the legal mechanisms the Tribunal considers necessary to give Treaty-consistent protection to forms of Maori cultural expression.

The key reforms recommended by the Tribunal in this chapter are based around the establishment of a commission that would adjudicate in matters relating to the use of Maori art forms and, more specifically, the matauranga (knowledge) that underlies those art forms.  The basic concerns raised by the claimants that the Tribunal is seeking to address in this area are to prevent those who are not kaitiaki from acquiring private rights in taonga works and associated matauranga and also to provide effective recognition of the rights and obligations that reside with the kaitiaki of those taonga works.
The Tribunal recommends the adoption of a two-tier approach, dependent on the nature of the kaitiaki relationship.  At one level, Maori forms of cultural expression should be protected from offensive and derogatory use.  Any person ought to be able to object to such use.  There are already mechanisms in the intellectual property rights regime which recognise such use ought to be prohibited.  Greater protection ought to be afforded where there is a specific kaitiaki relationship to the taonga in question.  So that ANY commercial use of this type of taonga will require consultation with the kaitiaki and may also require the consent of the kaitiaki.

This two-tier approach is based on the Tribunal’s distinction between ‘taonga works’ and ‘taonga derived works’.  According to the Tribunal’s conceptualisation, taonga works are forms of cultural expression (songs, haka, stories, artistic works) which are distinguished by several features.  All taonga works, the Tribunal says, have kaitiaki – living individuals or communities that are responsible, under tikanga Maori, for the taonga work.  Taonga works have whakapapa – they are seen as representations of ancestors, whether those ancestors are the authors or creators of those works or are embedded in the work in some other way.  Taonga works also “have korero”, that is to say that they tell an important story, which places an ancestor or ancestors at the centre of that story.  These factors mean that taonga works have mauri – they live – and it is the kaitiaki’s primary responsibility to protect the mauri of the taonga work.

Taonga derived works on the other hand “have a Maori element to them, but that element is generalised or adapted, and is combined with other non-Maori influences.”  One example of this category of work that the Tribunal points to is the famous Painting No. 1 by Gordon Walters.  These works, the Tribunal says, do not have mauri in the way that taonga works do and there is no natural kaitiaki relationship with a particular kin group or community.  The Tribunal takes the view that, while there should be protections relating to the way in which these taonga derived works are used, these protections need not be as extensive as those that would apply to taonga works.

This approach reflects the balance the Tribunal is attempting to strike, effectively between public and private rights.  The Tribunal even suggests that “the guiding principles of kaitiakitanga on the one hand and property rights on the other are really different ways of thinking about the same issue – that is, the ways in which two cultures decide the rights and obligations of communities in their created works and valued resources.” The Western intellectual property regime has used the concept of property to define those rights and obligations because of the particular concerns and objectives of historical  law and policy makers in Western societies.  Maori have used the prism of relationships to work through these issues, reflecting the particular concerns and objectives of Maori communities.
So, a kaitiaki right is not a property right in the orthodox Western sense.  Ultimately, the Tribunal found that “taonga works, taonga-derived works, and matauranga Maori are entitled to protection from derogatory and offensive public use” and that “any future use of taonga works for commercial purposes should occur only after consulting and, in appropriate cases, gaining the consent of kaitiaki”.  The purpose of the commission that is proposed by the Tribunal would be to provide formal legal recognition of the interests of kaitiaki.  In the wider context, the Tribunal notes that recognition of such interests will not only benefit Maori, but ought to contribute to a strong and confident New Zealand culture and identity. 

Monday, July 4, 2011

Wai 262 - The Tribunal's general approach

The Waitangi Tribunal’s report in response to the Wai 262 claims, Ko Aotearoa Tenei, is clearly a significant document.  The length of the inquiry and the bredth of issues addressed virtually ensures that will be the case.  But, for me, the most significant aspect of the report is that it articulates a vision of law and policy making that is genuinely based on two founding cultures -  what the Tribunal refers to as “perfecting the Treaty partnership”.

I ought to note from the outset that I have worked on the Wai 262 inquiry, as both a Waitangi Tribunal staff member and, more recently, I was contracted to support with the report-writing phase of the inquiry.  So, I have at times been quite close to the Tribunal’s work on this inquiry. Undoubtedly, this affects the way I perceive the report, though I hope it does not detract from my analysis of it.

Important context for the entire report is provided in the report’s introduction, which reflects on the two founding cultures that underpin New Zealand society - the cultures of both “Kupe’s People” and “Cook’s People”.  The meeting of these two peoples and their respective social, legal, scientific and philosophical worlds is the background which led to the Treaty itself and the important commitment of both parties to develop, formally from 1840, together in partnership.  According to the Tribunal, it is this consensus that provides us with the constitutional framework to develop an approach to government that is underscored as much by Maori knowledge, language, culture and ideas, as it is by Western models of philosophy and government.
The concept of kaitiakitanga is at the heart of the report and the Tribunal recommends mechanisms to ensure it is also at the heart of law and policy making.  The Tribunal explains the way it uses this concept as follows:

Kaitiakitanga is the obligation, arising from the kin relationship, to nurture or care for a person or thing. . . Kaitiaki can be spiritual guardians existing in non-human form. . . But people can (indeed, must) also be kaitiaki. . . Mana and kaitiakitanga go together as right and responsibility, and that kaitiaki responsibility can be understood not only as cultural principle but as a system of law.

Essentially, the Tribunal suggests three basic levels of protection that might be applicable to kaitiaki relationships:

1. Full decision-making authority in the hands of the kaitiaki;
2. Partnership with the Crown (not merely Maori input, but genuinely shared decision-making), and;
3. Influence over decisions that affect the kaitiaki relationship.

No doubt many people will be disappointed that the Tribunal has stated that it may no longer be possible to deliver full-autonomy to Maori in all circumstances where Maori interests are at stake.  But it seems to me that the report suggests that the constitutional Treaty guarantee of tino rangatiratanga requires that the default position ought to be that full-decision making authority sits with the kaitiaki.  This is a powerful starting point.  Nevertheless, where other interests are sufficiently strong, these may need to be balanced against the protected Treaty interest, which may in turn lead to some form of shared decision-making.  And in the rare cases where shared decision-making is not possible, the Tribunal notes that it must always be open to Maori to influence decisions that affect their taonga.

In a report that addresses such a broad range of subject matter, the Tribunal has, of necessity, often dealt with matters at the level of general principles, indicating that the precise level of protection of the kaitiaki relationship and the taonga in question will often require a very fact-based, case-by-case analysis.  Yet the principles articulated by the Tribunal in each area give clear guidance as to how the kaitiaki interest should be prioritized and given effect.  Across the range of policy areas that are considered, the key for the Tribunal is to ensure kaitiaki are able to exercise genuine decision-making authority and that government agencies are required to deal with the kaitiaki interest in a way that is consistent, transparent and accountable. 

This is not about extending consultation or establishing advisory committees that have no power to enforce their decisions.  For example, in relation to the use of Maori imagery in trademark applications, the Tribunal recommends shifting from a model of input and advice from an expert Maori committee, to actually vesting decision-making authority on these issues (and related matters) in a commission that is able to assess the kaitiaki relationship in question and determine how it ought to be best protected in any given case.

Whether in the case of Maori forms of artistic and cultural expression or in relation to matters that affect land and the environment, the mechanisms recommended by the Tribunal aim to provide avenues for Maori to articulate the rights and responsibilties they are seeking to exercise as kaitiaki.  So, the Tribunal proposes changes to the resource management regime that significantly enhances the role of Iwi Resource Management Plans (IRMPs).  Iwi Management Plans are not new, but the Tribunal is envisaging a system where agreed parts of these IRMPs must be given effect to by district plans, giving kaitiaki the opportunity to initiate the discussion as to how their vision for the natural environment in their rohe ought to be given expression.

So, those are just a few general points that strike me about the overall layout of the report and the conceptualisation of the issues it touches upon.  There is a great deal in this report and, like most people, I am still getting to grips with much of the detail.  I will try to post again soon to address some of the report’s content in specific subject areas.