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Discourse data reporter Francesca Fionda and her team examined more than 260 Indigenous-themed items from 40 souvenir shops in Vancouver over five months.

Here’s how we investigated Vancouver’s Indigenous-souvenir industry

Details on the stores we visited, the samples we took and the manufacturers we called to determine which products were authentic.

The Indigenous souvenir market can be a confusing place if you want to make sure a product is authentic. That’s why The Discourse visited 40 tourist shops over three months in Gastown, Granville Island, Robson Street and Chinatown and logged over 260 items to figure out just how much of Vancouver’s tourist market sells authentic Indigenous souvenirs.

Whether or not something is “authentic” can mean different things to different people.

Informed by the research of Indigenous artists and activists in B.C., across Canada and in Australia, we considered an item to be authentic if it was produced by or in collaboration with Indigenous people and, if so, whether they got credit and compensation for their work.

Items whose authenticity we could not verify despite repeated attempts — including direct outreach to stores, manufacturers and suppliers, and carefully studying product labels and company websites to determine whether they were produced by or in collaboration with Indigenous people — were deemed to be inauthentic.

In all, after tracing the products’ origins, we found 75 per cent of the shops we investigated in Vancouver appear to be selling some inauthentic Indigenous souvenirs.

Here’s how we got to these findings.

In each shop, we examined a sample of up to 10 Indigenous-themed items and asked staff if they could name the products’ artists or nations of origin. We looked for items like dreamcatchers, inukshuks, totem poles, carvings, moccasins, cards, jewelry, clothing, home decor items, and various items featuring Coast Salish designs.

We asked staff three questions about the Indigenous-themed items sold in their store:

  1. Can you tell us the name and heritage of the artist?
  2. How does the artist get paid?
  3. Can you show us what authentic Indigenous items you have for sale?

We then entered these conversations and photos into a database to keep track of what we found. By the end of these visits, we had catalogued more than 260 Indigenous-themed souvenirs. We then traced as many of their origins as we could find.

More than half the items we checked lacked information about their origins. So we followed up directly with many of the manufacturers, suppliers and designers listed on the products’ labels and asked them who produced their items and what relationship, if any, they have with Indigenous artists.

Below you’ll find a detailed list of the stores we visited and how we determined whether or not they were selling authentic Indigenous souvenirs, according to the samples we examined. You’ll also find, farther below, information on the manufacturers, designers and suppliers we looked into — and how we determined whether or not their products were authentic.

Legend:

All authentic items in our sample.

At least one authentic item, and at least one item from our sample whose authenticity either could not be confirmed or was deemed inauthentic.

No proven authentic items in our sample.

Click here to see a detailed list of the stores we visited and how we determined whether or not they were selling authentic Indigenous souvenirs, according to the samples we examined. You’ll also find below information on the manufacturers, designers and suppliers we looked into — and how we determined whether or not their products were authentic.

  Ammolite Museum Some items in our sample had labels that credited one Indigenous artist.  Other items like Inukshuk statues had no artist listed and the staff could not tell us who the original artist was. No response
  Artina’s All the items in our sample had an artist name, nation and biography available. No response
  BC Ferries Vacations All items in our sample listed an artist name/nation. No response
  C & K World Trading Inc (Gastown) We could not confirm whether any of the items we sampled were authentic. We confirmed that at least two items were from companies that told us they did not collaborate with Indigenous artists to produce the items we found. No response
  C & K World Trading Inc (Robson St) This store had a small selection of Indigenous-themed souvenirs. We could not confirm whether any of the items we sampled were authentic. None of the items in our sample had artist/nations, and two items were from companies who told us they do not collaborate with Indigenous artists on the items that we found. No response
  Canadian Crafts Some handmade items in our sample had labels that credited Indigenous artists on the product. Other items had suppliers who were able to confirm the work was produced by Indigenous artists. Some items had no information that could be verified. At least two  items were from companies that told us they do not collaborate with Indigenous artists. No response
  Cedar Root Gallery All items in our sample listed an artist name/nation. The store owner told us she ensures artists are happy with the royalties they receive from companies. Read their response here
  Chic Winds This store had a small amount of Indigenous souvenirs. All items in our sample listed an artist name/nation.  Read their response here
  Coastal Peoples Fine Art Gallery All items in our sample listed an artist name/nation. No response
  Delane Canada We could not confirm whether many of the items we sampled were authentic since many did not have labels for either artists or companies. But one carving had an artist signature. The store also carried an Indigenous-themed print by Sue Coleman, who is not an Indigenous artist. Read their response here
  Eagle Spirit Gallery All items in our sample listed an artist name/ nation. No response
  Eklectic Finds Home & Garden This store had a small number of items.

In our sample, one item was signed by the artist. Another was from a company that makes cards designed by a non-Indigenous artist who told us her artwork is not Indigenous in nature; it’s only meant to tell her own story using geometric shapes and lines and animals.

No response
  G2 Canada One item in our sample had a label that credited an Indigenous artist on the product. Other items were from a company who told us they do not collaborate. No response
  Gandharva Loka This store only had two Indigenous-themed items and both were produced by Indigenous artists. Staff could tell us the artist name and nation of one item, and the nation of another artist they said preferred not be named. Read their response here
  GMLK Gift Shop Some items in our sample had labels that credited Indigenous artists on the product, or were from companies that were able to confirm the work was produced by Indigenous artists. Some totem pole magnets were from a company that told us they import their goods from overseas and they don’t collaborate with Indigenous people in their production. No response
  Grand Maple Gifts and Souvenirs Some items in our sample had labels that credited Indigenous artists on the product, or came from companies who were able to confirm the work was produced by Indigenous artists. One item was from a company that told Radio-Canada it does not collaborate with Indigenous artists. No response
  Granville Gifts A few items were from an Indigenous-owned company. Other items either did not list an artist/nation or were from a company that told us it did not collaborate with Indigenous artists on the products that we found. No response
  Granville Island Treasures Several hand-carved items in our sample clearly credited Indigenous artists and prominently displayed their bios. Other items came from companies that were able to confirm the work was produced by Indigenous artists. A few totem pole souvenirs were from a company that told us it did not collaborate with Indigenous artists on those items. Read their response here
  Hudson House Trading Company This is a big souvenir shop. Some items in our sample had labels naming the  artist/nation. Other items were from companies who did not respond to our repeated attempts to verify the authenticity. No response
  Inuit Gallery of Vancouver All items in our sample listed an artist name/nation. Staff also showed us Igloo labels of authenticity associated with items from the Inuit Art Foundation. No response
  Inukshuk Gallery

Some items in our sample had labels that credited Indigenous artists on the product, or came from companies that were able to confirm the work was produced by Indigenous artists. Other items were from companies that did not respond to our attempts to verify the authenticity of their products. Some copper jewelry was from a company whose non-Indigenous designer once worked with Indigenous jewelry makers but who now designs his own pieces without collaboration.

This store told us it has now removed the items in question.
Read their full response here
  Jade Vancouver This company’s co-owner told us that the majority of its carvings and jewelry are made in China. Having only joined the company 11 years ago, he couldn’t speak to the products’ original designers, but he couldn’t point to any Inuit artists that the company currently works with or pays royalties to now. Read their response here
  Michelle’s (73 Water St) Some items in our sample had labels that credited Indigenous artists on the product, or came from companies that were able to confirm the work was produced by Indigenous artists. Some items were from companies that did not respond to our attempts to verify their authenticity. Other items were from a company that told us they do not collaborate with Indigenous artists. This store told us it plans to stop selling the items in question.
Read their full response here
  Michelle’s (137 Water St) Some items in our sample had labels that credited Indigenous artists on the product, or came from companies that were able to confirm the work was produced by Indigenous artists. Other items were from companies that told us they do not collaborate with Indigenous artists. This store told us it plans to stop selling the items in question.
Read their full response here
  Ocean Floor Some items in our sample had labels that credited Indigenous artists on the product, or came from companies that were able to confirm the work was produced by Indigenous artists. Other items were from companies that told us the do not collaborate with Indigenous artists. No response
  Rhinoceros Accessories Some of the items we sampled were from companies who told us they do not collaborate with Indigenous artists. But a few inukshuk carvings came from a company run by a man who, although not Inuit himself, told us he is part Métis and works with his Mi’kmaq spouse and a Montagnais person in Quebec to create their pieces. No response
  Silver Gallery All items in our sample listed an artist name/nation. Staff could also tell us how the artists were paid. Read their response here
  Skwachàys Lodge All items in our sample listed an artist name/nation. Staff could also tell us how the artists were paid. No response
  Smiley’s Some items in our sample had labels that credited Indigenous artists on the products, or came from  companies that were able to confirm the work was produced by Indigenous artists. Other items were from a company that told us they did not collaborate with Indigenous people on the totem pole and inukshuk products that we found. Read their response here
  Snowggle gifts (Gastown) Some items in our sample had labels that credited Indigenous artists, or came from companies that were able to confirm the work was produced by Indigenous artists. Other items came from a company that told us it did not collaborate with Indigenous people to produce those items, or from companies that did not respond to our attempts to verify their products’ authenticity. No response
  Snowggle gifts (Robson St) Some items in our sample had labels that credited Indigenous artists on the product, or came from companies that were able to confirm the work was produced by Indigenous artists. Another item came from a company that told us it did not collaborate with Indigenous people to produce its totem pole designs. No response
  Stanley Park Trading Post Some items in our sample had labels that credited Indigenous artists on the product, or came from companies that were able to confirm the work was produced by Indigenous artists. Another item came from a company that told us it did not collaborate with Indigenous people to produce its totem pole designs. No response
  Station News This is a very small kiosk. We could not confirm whether any of the items we sampled were authentic as they were not labelled or the company listed did not respond to our attempts to verify the authenticity. No response
  Suraj Fashions and Gifts This big souvenir shop, whose awning says “T-shirts, souvenirs, Native crafts” carries a range of items. Some items in our sample had labels that credited Indigenous artists on the product, or came from companies that were able to confirm the work was produced by Indigenous artists. Other items were from a company that told Radio-Canada it does not collaborate with Indigenous artists. No response
  Taraxca Jewellery Some items in our sample had labels that credited Indigenous artists on the product, or were from companies that were able to confirm the work was produced by Indigenous artists. Other items were from a company that told us they do not collaborate with Indigenous artists. No response
  The Raven and the Bear Most of the items in this store were Indigenous-themed, and several from our sample were hand-carved and signed by the artist. Some items in our sample had labels that credited Indigenous artists on the product, or were from companies that were able to confirm the work was produced by Indigenous artists. Others were designed by a non-Indigenous artist, or produced by companies who have said they don’t work with Indigenous artists to produce these items.   No response
  Tiamo’s Smoke and Gift Shop This is a very small convenience store. One item had no information about the artist, while the dreamcatcher and inukshuk items in our sample were from companies who told us they did not collaborate with Indigenous artists to make these items.  Read their response here
  Vancouver Souvenirs Ltd. Some items in our sample had labels that credited Indigenous artists on the product, or came from companies that were able to confirm the work was produced by Indigenous artists. Some of the items in our sample did not list an artist/nation; others were produced by  a company whose labels clearly state that “our Indian products are not Indian-made or an Indian product.” Our sample also included dolls produced by a company that told Radio-Canada that it does not collaborate with Indigenous people. No response
  Wickaninnish Gallery Nearly all the items in our sample had labels that credited Indigenous artists, or came from companies that were able to confirm the work was produced by Indigenous artists. One line of moccasins was produced by a company whose non-Indigenous owner told us that he designs and creates all the footwear he sells, though he employs some Indigenous people, as well as some non-Indigenous people, in their production. When we asked him if it would be correct to describe his products as authentic because some Huron people participate in their production, he said, “I don’t think so, no. I’m not sure.” It depends what counts as authentic, he said, noting that his shoes are not made on reserve. This store told us it will now be “phasing out this line of moccasins.”
Read their full response here
  Zuri Fashion We found one item here from a company that lists Indigenous artists on its website. Other items were hard to verify because they were either not labelled or the companies listed did not respond to our attempts to verify their authenticity. One totem pole bottle opener was from a company that told us it did not collaborate with Indigenous people to design its totem poles. No response

 

Designers, manufacturers and suppliers that are owned by, or collaborate with, Indigenous artists:

Company Name
(in random
order):
What We Found:
Spirit Works Limited This company is owned by Coast Salish artist Shain Jackson. All art is produced by Indigenous people. Products are labelled with artist names and nations. Jackson helped launch the Authentic Indigenous certification.
Copperknot Jewelry This company is owned by First Nations artist and fashion designer Pam Baker (Himikalas). Art is produced on the Capilano reserve by Indigenous people. This company has an Authentic Indigenous certification.
Native NorthWest This company told us they work directly with Indigenous artists to create their products. They also said they pay the artists royalties or buy rights to produce their designs. Products are labelled with artist names and nations. This company has an Authentic Indigenous certification.
Nations Creations This company told us they are a social enterprise located in Chilliwack under the Stó:lō Nation, which works directly with Indigenous artists to create their products. Artists are paid a signing fee and royalties for their products.
Boma/Magenta/Panabo The owner of Boma told us these three related companies work directly with Indigenous artists to create their products, and that they pay the artists royalties or buy rights to produce their designs. Products are labelled with artist names and nations. Boma has an Authentic Indigenous certification.
Chloë Angus This company told us they work directly with Indigenous artists to create their products, and that they pay the artists royalties or buy rights to their designs. Products are labelled with artist names and nations. Chloë Angus has an Authentic Indigenous certification.
Monague Native Crafts Their website states they’re located on the Pekw’xeyles Reserve, Sto:Lo Nation, in Mission, BC. They did not answer our questions when we requested an interview, but told us the company is owned by an Ojibwe artist and all the designs are hers.

Korite Ammolite

We only found one item from this company and no one returned our calls, but the item included the name, nation and biography of First Nations artist Harold Jackson.
Inuk Du-Bou While the carver in this company from Quebec is not Inuit himself, he told us he is part Métis and his spouse and business partner is Mi’kmaq. Together, he said, they work with someone who is Montagnais to finish and package their inukshuk pieces for distribution across Canada.

 

Manufacturers, designers and suppliers who could not prove they collaborate with Indigenous artists, or who told us they do not collaborate with Indigenous people in the creation of some of their goods:

Company Name
(in random
order):
What We Found:
A.T. Storrs Ltd. This company does not list any information on its product labels about the artists behind their Indigenous souvenirs. They did not return repeated requests for an interview.
Cathay Collection This company’s product labels clearly state that “our Indian products are not Indian-made or an Indian product.”
Royal Specialty Sales This company told us they do not collaborate with Indigenous artists to create their items.
KC Gifts This company told us they do not work with Indigenous artists to produce their work now, though they have in the past. Now they import some of their souvenir items — like make-your-own dreamcatcher kits — from China, and sell totem poles made of polyresin that are not manufactured by Indigenous people but cost much less than buying an authentic version.
Koshuan This company didn’t return our numerous calls requesting an interview, but admitted to Radio-Canada in 2017 that their dolls are not made by Indigenous people. According to a CBC report on the Radio-Canada investigation, the owner suggested his products could still be considered genuine Indigenous items even if they’re not made by Indigenous people.
Snowcap Trading The owner of this company told us that he carries work from at least one Indigenous artist in his catalogue, listed under the artist’s name, with his image and bio. He also says he sometimes collaborates with First Nations artists and supports them in their own work. However, as a non-Indigenous artist, he designs his own pieces — such as totem poles and inukshuks, which we found for sale in several stores — without collaboration. These designs come from his own inspiration and reflect his own version of these iconic figures, he says, which he creates to honour the beauty of his adopted home of Canada. As an artist, he says, he would never violate anyone’s copyright or disrespect another artist by copying their specific design. His works are his own designs and he should have the right to make them, he says. He says Canadians should embrace a wider vision of who can design these items, which he considers public and iconic, to reflect and promote the beauty of Canada.
Sue Coleman prints Sue Coleman is a non-Indigenous artist whose artwork heavily features Northwest Coast First Nations style. She defends her practice, though her work has been criticized in the past as cultural appropriation.  
Sunright Multi-Gift Ltd. This company does not list any information about the artists behind their Indigenous-themed souvenirs. They did not return repeated requests for an interview.
Chelsea Pewter and Jewelry A sales representative for this company told us they do not collaborate with Indigenous people to produce their inukshuk products.
Eugène Cloutier The owner told us that while he employs some people from the Huron First Nation in the production of his Laurentian Chief line of footwear, he designs and creates the moccasins himself as a non-Indigenous person. When asked if it would be correct to describe his products as authentic because some Huron people participate in their construction, he said, “I don’t think so, no. I’m not sure.” It depends what counts as authentic, he said, noting that his shoes are not made on reserve.
Copper Reflections In an email, this company told us it works with Indigenous artists to produce and sell their designs, with the artists’ signatures. However, having worked with Indigenous artists for five years selling silver jewelry, he now designs his own pieces of copper jewelry as a non-Indigenous artist, without collaboration. “We have great respect and admiration of indigenous people,” he wrote.
Mastersculptures This company told us they hired Indigenous people in the past to paint some of the poles they produced, but currently do not collaborate with Indigenous artists to create their items.
A & D Fiesta Inc This company told us they do not collaborate with Indigenous artists to create their items.
Feng Yuan Jewellery This company does not list any information about the artists behind their Indigenous-themed souvenirs. They did not return repeated requests for an interview.
Due North Souvenirs This company told us they do not collaborate with Indigenous artists to create their items.
Healing Helen This company makes cards designed by a non-Indigenous artist who told us her artwork is not Indigenous in nature; it’s only meant to tell her own story using geometric shapes and lines and animals, she said.

Sources

  • A 2016 mystery-shopper audit and campaign in Australia led by The Arts Law Centre of Australia, the Indigenous Art Code and Copyright Agency/Viscopy. They estimate that 80 per cent of products in Australian cities are inauthentic Aboriginal-style arts and crafts.
  • A 2010 study commissioned by the Aboriginal Tourism Association of British Columbia found that 88 per cent of small Indigenous-themed souvenirs sold in Vancouver, like keychains, stickers and magnets, were created and sold with no participation from Indigenous artists at all.
  • The Authentic Indigenous campaign that sought to create a labelling system for Indigenous art products in B.C.
  • Interviews with artists, companies, lawyers and academics.

This story is part of a series on fake Indigenous art in the tourism industry. It was edited by Robin Perelle. Cloe Logan, Wawmeesh Hamilton, Chris Tait, Uytae Lee, Zachary Kershman, and Brittany Hobson contributed research.