January 19, 2010

"Authentic Aboriginal" label introduced

B.C. native groups unveil 'authentic' logo

Businesses must be native-owned; operate to high standards

By Mark Hume
It took 12 years to work out a process that was acceptable provincewide, but 60 native organizations in British Columbia have finally agreed on a way to designate goods and businesses as culturally authentic.

A new seal was unveiled at a news conference Monday that is being awarded to native-run enterprises that pass a rigorous screening by the Aboriginal Tourism Association of B.C. Native leaders say the logo, which features the words “Authentic Aboriginal” framed by an eagle feather and human eye motif, will promote quality control and allow consumers to easily identify genuine native products.

The seal can be granted only to native owned and operated businesses, so it would not have headed off the controversy that emerged last week when VANOC was criticized by a Squamish Nation artist for selling aboriginal items, such as T-shirts and baseball caps, that were printed outside Canada. The Four Host First Nations have dismissed the criticism of VANOC as unwarranted because all the art was done by natives, although the mass reproduction of some items was done by non-native businesses.
And:The first businesses to win approval under the program are the Haida Heritage Centre, in Skidegate; the Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Centre, Osoyoos; the St. Eugene Golf Resort and Casino, Cranbrook; the ‘Ksan Historical Village, in Hazelton and the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, in Whistler. Although those are all large-scale tourism businesses, Ms. Battel said individual artists or small galleries can also apply for the right to use the seal.Comment:  The host nations' dismissal of the criticism is rather facile and self-serving. If products are designed by Natives but manufactured by non-Natives, it's easy to see why some people might be upset. The host nations' position is defensible, but don't pretend there's no basis for a controversy.

The same issue crops up in Native art throughout the US, especially in the Southwest. For instance, if a Navajo carves a katsina (kachina) based on a Hopi design, is it an authentic Hopi katsina? Most Hopi carvers and Indian art dealers would say no, but the Olympics Host Nations apparently would say yes.

For more on Native tourism, see Aboriginal Tourism in British Columbia and Nine Native Cultural Centers to Visit.

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