Brewer criticised for using Māori images on bottles

5:20 pm on 22 July 2016

An Auckland brewery has apologised for using imagery of Māori ancestors in the branding of its range of beers.

A pint of beer is poured.

Photo: 123RF

Birkenhead Brewing Company used the names of Te Arawa ancestors Tutanekai and Hinemoa from Rotorua on two of their beer labels.

The company received a social media backlash against the use of the images, including a death threat to staff that was being investigated by police.

Co-founder Steve Simms said the company meant no disrespect in using the images and had consulted with iwi in Auckland.

"We're experienced businesspeople, we look at these things very carefully before we develop any product. In this particular instance we got it wrong," he said.

"We got it wrong probably because the information we needed to actually get was not centrally located. It wasn't easy for us so we acted on the advice that we got. We were clearly naive in that kind of branding exercise and we've learned our lesson."

There needed to be a central place for people to go if they were interested in using Māori images, he said.

"We are imploring that there must be a central point where we can see whether we can use this imagery or not. I think it's quite fragmented at the moment."

However, Māori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell, who is Te Arawa, said the Intellectual Property Office already had Māori advisors that businesses could contact about using Maori content.

He was told the beer company had applied for a trademark but, before a trademark was granted, there was a period where interested parties could object.

Mr Flavell said the product was launched before the period had lapsed, and it didn't appear the Intellectual Property Office had picked up the potential for problems.

"The Intellectual Property [Office] of New Zealand, whose job it is to look at those issues around Māori content, it shouldn't have been put on the shelf until that process had been signed off."

Mr Flavell said it wouldn't have been hard to track down those associated with the Te Arawa ancestors, and it would have been a simple courtesy to ask.

"It's just good manners to ask those people who have a close association with those names if it was appropriate or otherwise."

Mr Flavell said he was glad the company was now talking to people from Te Arawa and taking steps to rectify the situation.