Las Vegas Woman Fights Maori Cultural Appropriation


Henryhbk via Wikimedia Commons

Maori dancers perform a haka.

A decade ago the University of Arizona football team initiated a pregame ritual: a dance to fire up the players and crowd.

The move turned out to be something of a fumble.

The players were performing a mangled version of the haka, a ceremonial war dance originated by the Maori, New Zealand’s indigenous people.

Las Vegan Rata Elmore and many of her fellow Maori tribespeople successfully petitioned the university to end the dance, saying it was cultural appropriation, not appreciation.

“Cultural appropriation is when a majority takes something from a minority group and uses it as their own,” Elmore told State of Nevada. The haka “tells where you’re from; it tells who you are; it tells a story.”

Elmore, a nationally recognized expert on Maori culture, said “98 percent of the time” she gets a receptive ear when she expresses concern about appropriation.

Elmore recently presented on the Maori influence on culture and fashion during a forum at the New Zealand Embassy in Washington.

She also said she is standing with the Native Americans working to get Western High School in Las Vegas to change its Warrior mascot.

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Elmore said she got involved in the cause when her 6-year-old son, after a visit to the school, expressed unease over what he called cultural appropriation. 

“With this journey, I like to say I walk parallel with our Native American community,” she said. “Their conversation is about the mascot; my conversation is as a mom of a little boy.”

Her son subsequently brought his concerns to a Clark County School Board meeting, addressing trustees during public comments.

"I do know that the alumni have a connection and a passion to this image; however, they've had their moment and it was appropriate then. It is not appropriate now," Elmore said.

Elmore said the school board is continuing to have conversations about the name and mascot at Western High School. She thinks it is strange that the board is asking the whole community about the issue.

"What was okay and what everyone wanted in the past was not right," she said. 


Rata Elmore, Maori advocate

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