William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice


In 2018, a Chicago-based restaurant attempted to enforce a registered trademark of “Aloha Poke” by sending cease-and-desist letters to small businesses with names containing some variation of the phrase. Most of those businesses were owned by Native Hawaiians, causing an uproar due to the terms “aloha” and “poke” having strong ties to traditional Hawaiian culture. Known as the Aloha Poke case, it brought attention to the fact that the United States currently has no definite legal framework to protect the cultural heritage of Native Hawaiians, much less their intangible cultural heritage.

This Note addresses the lack of federal recognition granted to Native Hawaiians and how that has resulted in a lack of protection over their culture, even in comparison to Native American culture. It will then analyze the current legal framework for protecting Indigenous cultural property, specifically intangible cultural heritage, both within the United States and globally. Informed by that analysis, this Note will present important components to include in a possible legal framework for protecting intangible cultural heritage for Native Hawaiians.