Indigenous artists in Canada are forcing the government to reduce the sale of counterfeit First Nations art

An unchecked market of First Nations counterfeit arts and artifacts is fueling calls for the Canadian government to strengthen regulation. According to the report of CBCthe artists force the officials to hold back of imported knockoffs, many from eastern Europe and Asia, arguing that native artists lost millions of dollars from sales also taking advantage of unexpected buyers.

Kwakwaka’wakw artist Richard Hunt, known for his colorful wood carvings, says CBC that he had to prevent others from making postcards with pictures of his work without permission. “In Bali, Indonesia, they make Northwest Coast masks. They sell them as Indigenous, ”he said.“ These things have to stop. We need the help of the government. ” Hunt added that raising import tariffs is one way to combat imports, but the massive production of knockoffs has thrived in a $ 1bn industry that is hurting the livelihoods of young carpenters. First Nations.

Lou-Ann Neel, a Kwagiulth artist, also said CTV News that these fakes, ranging from objects that claim to be genuine to paraphernalia that carry a native image, are harming artists by reducing market prices. “I’ve worked in galleries all my life where an artist comes in asking for what I think is a fair price for an original work, but they have to settle for cheaper because of another company — with no in relation to our communities — releasing thousands of pieces like this and then lowering the prices, ”he said.

A movement to curb the flow of fakes and punish their makers has been growing in recent years, with efforts being more driven by the late artist Lucinda Turner. Turner, a British Columbia artist who passed away on July 4, has been working continuously since 2017 to track copycat works, most of whom say they are Indigenous Northwest Coast (NWC) artists. Some of the fakes he identified include reproductions of works at major institutions, from a beaver rattle in British Museum collections to several copies of engravings by NWC Haida artist Bill Reid.

“We believe it is time for the Canadian government to introduce the necessary laws and policies to promote and protect indigenous intellectual property and copyright through stricter laws and enforcement, which allow Indigenous artists support their families, communities and cultural heritage through the production and sale of their historic and unique art forms, ”Turner wrote in an open letter in November 2020 addressing the Canadian government.

The artist’s research began when he saw copies of art being sold by Nisga’a sculptor Norman Tait, with whom he apprenticed and later collaborated. On Facebook, Turner created a group called Fraudulent Native Art where he and thousands of members identified fakes and sought to remove items sold online that copied or adapted current NWC designs. They successfully removed more than 1,000 items, including T-shirts, cups and pillows.

“We were able to ‘remove’ these stolen designs by sending official Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) letters to offensive sellers or directly to host companies that advertise on the internet,” he said. Turner wrote in his letter. “However, whether the ads are ‘deleted’ or not, artists are rarely paid for the theft of these images and the practice continues while the original artists are not identified and exploited. . “

Turner also describes the widespread sale of fraudulent items by Canadian tourist sites, gift shops, and other vendors who sell them as “Northwest Coast style” and mislead consumers. “These practices of theft and misrepresentation are offensive to NWC Indigenous communities and misinform and mislead the public about the origin of the art,” he wrote. “The US and Australia have made progress in this area, and we insist that Canada can, and should, do more to protect the livelihood and cultural identity of Canadian Indigenous artists, too. Canada needs legislation, strategies and financial sanctions to reduce and prevent these destructive practices. ”

Echoing Turner’s requests was Senator Patricia Bovey, the first art historian and museologist to be appointed to the Canadian Senate. Bovey recently called for a reform of Canada’s Copyright Act to better protect Indigenous artists whose works have been stolen and sold as authentic. While current law offers some protections, Bovey said CBC that very few artists ask for help because the process is so complicated and time consuming. An additional solution, he says, is to create a unit that helps artists track down the parties responsible for knock-offs so they can demand payment. The senator also called for more stringent scrutiny of imports through border patrol. The Canada Border Services Agency says CBC that there are currently “no import restrictions in relation to objects that mimic folk art”.

Many advocates of stricter restrictions in Canada point to measures in the United States to curb counterfeit Native art. The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, for example, makes it criminal to misrepresent the marketing of Native art and craft products in the country. Potential violations of the Act may be reported on the website of the U.S. Department of the Interior via a simple form.

To better equip artists to manage their works and intellectual property rights, Turner also proposed creating the Indigenous Artists Registry using blockchain technology to record an artist’s portfolio and biography. This is “[provide] artists with a place to document designs, control ownership, establish origin, and track works as they are sold ”, he wrote.