Indigenous art on granville island

Indigenous art on granville island

annie ross at Personal + Material Geographies
Indigenous art on granville island

header photo: annie ross

An audit + policy project to ensure that Indigenous-themed products being sold on Granville Island are authentically made or designed by Indigenous artists. 

Against Cultural Appropriation of Indigenous Art

The Craft Council of BC has conducted an audit of Indigenous-themed products sold on Granville Island, looking at how many are authentically made and produced by Indigenous artists. 

We encourage all artists to read the A Brief Introduction to Cultural Appropriation of Craft in Canada 
that was developed by the Canadian Crafts Federation// Fédération canadienne des métiers d’art .



The CCBC’s audit looked at all Indigenous-themed products sold on Granville Island, and how many were authentically made and produced by Indigenous artists.

The audit is complete, and we have compiled our findings in a report and written policy recommendations to Granville Island on how to improve Indigenous representation and how to reduce the sale of fake Indigenous-themed items.

The goal of this project was to promote authentic Indigenous art, support Indigenous artists, and stop the sale of fake, appropriated or reproduced Indigenous symbols. The sale of fake or reproduced Indigenous art is a hugely common problem in Vancouver, especially in tourist spots like Granville Island, taking income and agency away from Indigenous artists. 

Indigenous control over cultural symbols is vital to the protection of Indigenous identity and an important step in reconciliation, and is stated as a right in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We hope that the findings of this project will eventually inform a city and province-wide policy on the sale of Indigenous art.

Authentic Indigenous representation in the marketplace impacts the following:

    • Creative Agency & Intellectual Property: Fake items distract customers from real art; fake items are disrespectful to the history and legacy of indigenous art forms which are passed on through generations and have significant, sacred meaning
    • Economic Impact: the sale of fake items directly takes economic opportunities away from Indigenous artists, which in turn takes away economic development/sustainability from Indigenous communities

The Craft Council of British Columbia is a charitable arts service organization which supports all stages of artistic practice in the craft sector. Our office and shop are located on Granville Island, which is part of the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples–Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations. In preparation for this project, we consulted and received guidance from Indigenous artists and community leaders, journalists and scholars from across the country.

Granville Island is managed by the Federal Government through the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), which approved this project. Any implementation of the final policy recommendations is up to the CMHC.

From October to December 2020 and on an ongoing basis, we have reached out to Indigenous artists and community members to talk about the importance of promoting Indigenous art that is produced by Indigenous artists, rather than the mass production of appropriated imagery. Feedback from these discussions informed the parameters of this project.

We visited every store & gallery on Granville Island, looking at any Indigenous-themed products on sale, speaking with the owners, and recording which shops had authentic and inauthentic items. We then followed up with manuafacturers and artists to get as much information on the authenticity of the products as possible.

Once the audit was completed, we compiled the results of the audit into a report, and shared them here on this webpage and directly with all the artists and stakeholders we’d been in touch with.

Based on our community engagement, stakeholder guidance and audit results, we wrote policy suggestions for the CMHC on how to address the sale of inauthentic Indigenous art on Granville Island.

We plan to follow up with CMHC on any changes in policy, and share the results of our project widely to support other efforts in promoting authentic Indigenous art.

audit results

Our Policy Manager, Ainslee Beer, visited 81 shops, galleries and art studios on Granville Island between January and March 2021. Of the 81 shops, galleries or studios, 18 had products or items that were Indigenous themed or created by Indigenous artists. Of those 18, 4 had entirely authentic Indigenous products, 7 had both authentic and inauthentic products, and 7 either carried only inauthentic products, or the authenticity of the items could not be confirmed.

Out of the 81 businesses and studios, only 1 is Indigenous owned and none of the permanent artist studio spaces or galleries are occupied by Indigenous Artists.

This information is compiled in this report.

how did we determine what was "authentic"?

As a predominantly white, settler-dominated organization, it is not up to us to define “authentic” Indigenous work. We strongly believe that, while we are able and plan to use our privileged position as an organization to influence policy, the larger conversation about the definition of authenticity should be lead by the Indigenous artists who create these works. We aim to support and amplify the work already being done in this field.

During our community engagement we asked Indigenous artists for guidance on how to measure the authenticity of an item for the purposes of this project, and we consulted a number of resources and examples from other regions. In our Granville Island audit, we consider an item authentic if it falls within the following three categories (based on work previously done by Authentic Indigenous):

Artwork by Veronica Danes Waechter, photo by Alex Montes de Oca

Products are designed, produced and distributed by Indigenous artists or businesses.

Products are designed, approved and distributed by Indigenous artists but may be produced by non-Indigenous people or businesses.

Products bear the artwork of an Indigenous artist who has been fairly compensated for their work and has also approved of the final design. The producer and/or distributor need not be of Indigenous ancestry.



Other Resources & Supports

Banner photo: artwork by annie ross, photo by Alex Montes de Oca