In the face of mounting anger from indigenous Māori groups and a threat by the Māori Council to boycott New Zealand’s national airline altogether, Air New Zealand has announced that it has withdrawn its controversial application to trademark the logo of its in-flight magazine ‘KIA ORA’.

The phrase ‘Kia Ora’ is a Māori saying that is broadly interpreted as meaning “be well”, “good luck”, or simply “cheers” or “hi”, and has long been used by Māori and non-Māori New Zealanders alike.

Air New Zealand had sought to trademark “particular stylized forms” of the phrase, namely the logo of its magazine, but had argued that it was not seeking to trademark the words themselves. However, the response from Māori groups was swift and clear. As Matthew Tukaki of the Māori Council stated: “This is an insult pure and simple. I am sick and tired of cultural appropriation and in fact all Māori are – our language is a national treasure for all of us and we need to respect it. It’s not here for business to use it and profit from it as they see fit”.

Announcing the immediate withdrawal of the application, Christopher Luxon, CEO of Air New Zealand, said that: “While Air New Zealand had set out to trademark just the Kia Ora magazine logo rather than the words themselves, we have inadvertently sparked a much-needed discussion between Māori, intellectual property law experts and Government”. Luxon further claimed that Air New Zealand had filed the application after learning that a publisher had used ‘Kia Ora’ on a magazine, and he urged the New Zealand government to consider reviewing the guidelines that govern the interaction between New Zealand trademark law and the Māori language.

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