Intellectual Property Rights – The Nexus of Advocacy and Legal Protection


The Native Hawaiian Education Council (NHEC) has long been at the forefront of advocating for improved education programs for Native Hawaiians. Concurrently, efforts are underway to extend legal protections for traditional Indigenous skills and talent, including those of Native Hawaiians.

This article explores the connection between the NHEC’s advocacy and proposed updates to the Amendments to Respect Traditional Indigenous Skill and Talent (ARTIST) Act of 2023 to The Indian Arts and Crafts Act (IACA), specifically focusing on the expanded protections, definitions, and authorities for violations against traditional Indigenous skills and talent that would include Native Hawaiian artisans.

Coordinating Education Programs and Assessing Effectiveness. NHEC actively coordinates, assesses, and reports on existing education programs for Native Hawaiians to make recommendations for priority funding and support to state and federal entities, including the U.S. Department of Education. By doing so, we play a pivotal role in preserving and revitalizing Native Hawaiian culture through education.

Cultural Intellectual Property Rights and the Amendments to the Indian Arts and Craft Act. Updates to The ARTIST Act would “ensure Native Hawaiian artisans can define, develop, and support their own economies by including their arts and crafts in the definition of ʻNative-made’ products captured by IACA.” IACA prohibits misrepresentation in marketing Indigenous art sold in the U.S. Violators face civil or criminal penalties including fines of up to one million dollars or a five-year prison term.

Connection between NHEC Advocacy and Proposed Updates. By coordinating and assessing education programs, NHEC can identify areas where cultural intellectual property (IP), traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions are integral to the medium of instruction and curriculum development and advocate for federal protections of IP detrimental to Native Hawaiian education. NHEC collaborates with Native Hawaiian-serving organizations and policymakers through coordinated efforts to ensure that cultural expressions, traditional skills, and talents are protected and preserved.

Strengthening Cultural Identity and Educational Outcomes. When Native Hawaiian students are provided with educational programs that honor and integrate their cultural heritage, their overall educational experience improves. Recognizing and respecting traditional skills and talents not only strengthens their cultural identity but also enhances self-esteem, motivation, and educational engagement. By linking education and cultural IP rights, NHEC and The ARTIST Act foster an environment conducive to positive educational outcomes for Native Hawaiian students.

Enhancing Cultural Tourism and Economic Opportunities. Protecting traditional Indigenous skills and talent can also generate economic opportunities. By expanding legal protections, The ARTIST Act enables Indigenous artists, artisans, and cultural practitioners to thrive, preserving and sharing their cultural heritage while benefiting economically. This intersection of cultural preservation and economic growth serves as a powerful catalyst for Native Hawaiian communities’ empowerment and sustainable development.

By coordinating, assessing, and reporting on education programs, NHEC contributes to the preservation and revitalization of Native Hawaiian culture. Simultaneously, the proposed updates to The ARTIST Act expand legal protections for traditional Indigenous skills and talent, benefiting Native Hawaiian cultural IP rights. Together, these efforts pave the way for a more inclusive and culturally responsive education system, strengthening communities and preserving our rich heritage for generations to come.