The Office of Hawaiian Affairs is responding to the Aloha Poke controversy.

The Chicago-based restaurant says it trademarked the name Aloha Poke.

The Aloha Poke Co. has several locations on the mainland.

The restaurant has asked other restaurants with similar names and logos to change theirs.

It’s received a lot of backlash.

On Aug. 1, OHA stepped in saying it’s appalled by the company’s recent attempts to assert control over Olelo Hawaii.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) is appalled by the Chicago-based Aloha Poke(sic) Company’s recent attempts to assert control over Olelo Hawaii, the traditional language of the native people of Hawaii.  

OHA is currently reaching out to key stakeholders to discuss possible solutions to this immediate controversy.  However, the commercialization and exploitation of Native Hawaiian traditional knowledge has been an issue for generations.  At the heart of the issue are trademark laws that present substantial challenges for protecting our culture and promoting its pono (appropriate) use. 

After similar controversies in 2003, a coalition of Native Hawaiians adopted the Paoakalani Declaration—a powerful statement affirming the Native Hawaiian people’s collective right, as the creators of our traditional knowledge, to protect our cultural expressions from misuse by individuals who behave disrespectfully and inconsistently with our worldview, customs and traditions. Critically, the document declares the willingness on the part of Native Hawaiians to share our culture with humanity, provided that “we determine when, why, and how it is used.”  

The Aloha Poke Co released this statement on July 30. 

Over the past 48 hours, a significant amount of misinformation about Aloha Poke Co. has been shared on social media. We know that this misinformation has caused a considerable amount of anger and offense among those who care very passionately about their Hawaiian culture. First, we want to say to them directly how deeply sorry we are that this issue has been so triggering. It is our sincere hope that this statement can set the record straight and address valid concerns raised by many individuals around issues that are very personal to them.

Perhaps the most important issue that needs to be set straight is the false assertion that Aloha Poke Co. has attempted to own either the word “Aloha” or the word “Poke”. Neither is true and we would never attempt to do so. Not ever. We will explain more about this below.

Second, there is zero truth to the assertion that we have attempted to tell Hawaiian-owned businesses and Hawaiian natives that they cannot use the word Aloha or the word Poke. This simply has not happened, nor will it happen. We truly celebrate Hawaiian culture and what makes it so wonderful, which is very much the reason why we branded our business as we did.

Third, it is entirely false that we have either sued businesses for using the word Aloha or the word Poke or sought a “gag order” on anyone for using the words. We honestly do not know how either claim came to be, but this is simply not true. What we have done is attempted to stop trademark infringers in the restaurant industry from using the trademark “Aloha Poke” without permission. This is a very common practice used across industries, and in particular, in the restaurant industry to protect the use of a business’ name and brand.

To this point, the company holds two federal trademarks for its design logo and the words “Aloha Poke” for use in connection with restaurants, catering and take out services. This means that the company has the exclusive right to use those words together in connection with restaurant services within the US. This trademark does not prevent another person or entity from using the word Aloha alone or the word Poke alone in any instance.

In the rare instance where we have needed to send notices to those using our trademark in the restaurant industry, we have done so in a cooperative manner, and all have complied with our request to rebrand without any resulting legal action. Not a single business has closed as a result of this.

We respect and understand the concerns that have been raised around these false and misleading claims. We have been moved by the passionate defense of the Hawaiian culture displayed throughout social media and want nothing more than to assure everyone of the facts in these matters. We are truly sorry for all of the confusion that this has caused.