And I promised myself I wouldn’t write about anything controversial on my blog…
Recently I received a rejection letter for a short story. Nothing remarkable about that, you might say. The story was about a taniwha, a Maori creature of legend. Amongst other things, the publishers had this to say:
“The editorial group were [sic], in general, pleased with your story. However, we have been advised that Indigenous stories can be seen as impinging on the intellectual property rights of Indigenous peoples, Maori in this case.
We have been told that you will need to get the appropriate permissions to use this story. I have no idea how or where you can get these permissions.
[…] rather than negotiate an area that is legally a bit murky, we have decided not to use such indigenous type myths.”
My argument is not with the publishers. They had other valid reasons for rejecting the story, reasons that had nothing to do with the use of Maori mythology. They have the right to reject a story for any reason they damn well please, and they are not obliged to tell me why. They did me a courtesy by taking the trouble to outline their reasons, and for that I am grateful. And if I were in their position, given the advice they have received, I would probably have made the same decision.
No, my argument is with the political climate that has made them so fearful in the first place.
Indigenous peoples? By what criteria does one qualify to be an Indigenous People? Every myth and legend originates from a culture that was at one point indigenous to somewhere. To say, “this culture over here, this is fair game, but that one… oh no, you can’t touch that one” seems nonsensical to me.
Appropriate permissions? You know why you don’t know how to get permission? Because there is no way. There’s no one person or organization invested with the authority to grant permission on behalf of the Maori people. And it’s impossible to ask the permission of every living Maori on the planet. But I’ll tell you who will give you permission. Me. I am of Maori descent, with Maori ancestry on both my mother’s and my father’s side. This is my culture, my intellectual property, and I claim the right to tell my people’s stories my way.
Legally murky areas? For that, I have no argument. Litigation, it seems, is all.