Aboriginal Authentic

January 26, 2010

Aboriginal Artists and businesses have grown weary of competing with art products which depict our designs but are supplied by non-Aboriginal companies and for the most part are produced overseas.  This practice is not only disingenuous to the buyers who would like to purchase something truly of our cultures, but it also redirects much needed resources away from some of the most marginalized and impoverished communities in the country.  This is a very serious social and economic issue which warrants immediate attention.

As individual Aboriginal artists, and as a group, we have begun a campaign aimed at gaining legislation to protect one of our most valuable sources of income; income which in the past has been instrumental in the survival of our people and our way of life.  Similar laws have been in place south of the border for 20 years in the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990.

While we engage in this fight for recognition, in the meantime, as Aboriginal makers of truly Authentic Aboriginal Products (those designed, produced, and distributed by Aboriginal people) we have developed a symbol meant to address the issue.

As we treat this as a social and economic issue, this symbol is designed to ensure the maximum realistic involvement of Aboriginal people in bringing our handcrafts to market, and therefore resulting in the maximum amount of resources being directed toward our communities where they are most needed.

Our movement is not meant to condemn other forms of Aboriginal involvement less than what we propose here.  We realize Aboriginal involvement at any level brings valuable resources into our communities. We simply ask that when a high level term such as “Authentic Aboriginal Product” is used, it is meant to signify the highest level of Aboriginal involvement.

Therefore, in order to carry the “Authentic Aboriginal Product” label, the item for sale must meet the following criteria:

  1. Must be designed by an Aboriginal person – An Aboriginal person must have established the original design for the item being sold.  This means the artwork displayed on an item, in addition to the design of the item itself;
  2. Must be produced by Aboriginal people – This means that the item must have been created by the hands of an Aboriginal person.  This does not mean modern tools or technology cannot be used and that we are frozen in time in respect to our methods of production.  Nor does this mean every component of an item must be created by an Aboriginal person (such as beads, thread, buttons, and other materials) however it does mean that the main body of work must be created by an Aboriginal person here in Canada.
  3. Must be Distributed by Aboriginal People – This means an Aboriginal person is responsible for wholesaling to the retail market.  This segment is meant to address the exploitation which has occurred all too often in our communities when a non-Aboriginal actor takes advantage of needy conditions to purchase items for literally pennies on the dollar.  Although these items may be designed and produced by Aboriginals, the social and economic issues are not practically addressed

Until a formal body is able to take control of this regime, on behalf of willing Canadian Aboriginal artists, Spirit Works Limited will take responsibility of administering the Authentic Aboriginal Product symbol.  At present any Artist wishing to use the symbol need only send Spirit Works his/her assurance, in writing, that their products meet the above criteria, and we will send the symbol’s graphic to them for their use.  For those that do not have the means to print off their own symbols, we are currently working on stickers and tie-on tags that will be available for a small administration fee.  We will keep you updated as to how this initiative progresses.

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This blog was established to bring attention to the issue of Authenticity in Aboriginal Products.

There are very few direct sources of revenue capable of alleviating the poor conditions existing within Canadian First Nations communities.  The sale of our locally made Aboriginal products is probably the biggest one. 

Unfortunately unscrupulous non-Aboriginal actors have devised ways to re-route this much needed source of income right into their own pockets.  It appears that the Olympics itself has been used as a mass means of facilitating this practice.

Local Aboriginal producers of “Authentic Aboriginal Products” — those designed, produced and distributed by Aboriginal people in Canada –- are dismayed by the lack of commitment to authenticity and accountability of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic Games (VANOC).  We took VANOC at its word when it promised unprecedented support for Aboriginal economic development as well as Aboriginal employment and training leading up to and during the 2010 Winter Olympics.

VANOC has said all the right things through its Aboriginal Procurement Strategy, Aboriginal Licensing and Merchandising Program, and Buy Smart Program.  However, VANOC’s words and the reality don’t match.  Local Aboriginal businesses have found themselves on the short end of an unfair competition with non-Aboriginal companies who appropriate First Nations culture by selling products with Aboriginal designs on them, but originate overseas.  VANOC actually licenses these products and allows them to carry the label of “Authentic Aboriginal Products”. They are not.

By appropriating the term “Authentic Aboriginal Products”, VANOC, along with its associated suppliers, are profiting in the tune of millions of dollars, all the while leaving Aboriginal owned businesses and their Aboriginal employees – the producers of truly Authentic Aboriginal Products – with virtually nothing.  How does this meet VANOC’s objectives of promoting Aboriginal participation and optimizing opportunities for Aboriginal businesses? It does not.