Saturday, November 11, 2006

New Zealand Maoris furious over plans for a themed apartment complex in Texas

By Jason Edward Kaufman (Reproduced here under the fair use rules.)

NEW YORK. A proposed Maori-themed apartment complex outside Dallas recently served as a platform for the New Zealand natives to proclaim their pride. In June, after California-based Legacy Partners announced plans to build a residential complex featuring Maori themes and folk art in suburban Plano, the company received dozens of emails charging the company with “cultural theft.” Complaints centered on the name of the complex, “Kiora Park,” taken from the Maori expression of welcome. The problem was that the phrase is properly transliterated as “Kia Ora.” "How many more mistakes will there be?" Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia asked. "We're all very proud of the culture and more than willing to share it with people who come here, but to have it transplanted into Dallas, that sounds a bit incredible," she said.

No harm was meant, explains Richard Brownjohn, a vice president in Legacy’s Dallas office. “Our marketing people thought it had an unusual ring but was something people would easily pronounce. It was spelled as one word at first because Americans might butcher the spelling and we wanted it pronounced right. We didn’t think it would get Maoris upset,” he says. The name was quickly changed to “Kia Ora Park”.

Mr Brownjohn—a New Zealander who is not Maori—is overseeing the $30m, 15-acre, 250-apartment complex which broke ground in June and will open by next summer. The apartment buildings have Maori-inspired steeply pitched roofs with finials, and landscaping includes ferns, a significant motif in Maori culture that appears on Kia Ora promotional literature and the web site. “The theme came from us looking for something new and different,” he explains, noting that Tuscan and Spanish-colonial themes are more common in Texas. “My being from New Zealand was the impetus that got us going in that direction,” he says, noting that the complex is more broadly New Zealander than merely Maori with some buildings imitative of Victorian colonial architecture.

“We are not trying to create a theme park, but trying to create name recognition,” he says, “and we are trying to be sensitive.” But Maori activist Ken Mair has called the plan "cultural theft and possibly theft of intellectual property" and suggested that Legacy consult with Maori advisors. Mr Brownjohn says the company has no intention to do so, but he did contact the
New Zealand consulate in Washington which put him in touch with Maori Aotearoa (Maori Arts New Zealand) Red Feather Gallery in Auckland which is described as the only Maori-owned art gallery in New Zealand.