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Launch of Authentic Indigenous Arts Initiative Supports Hundreds of Indigenous Artists Across BC

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Coast Salish Territories – The Aboriginal Tourism Association of British Columbia (AtBC) launched its Authentic Indigenous Arts initiative, designed to honour the rich, diverse cultures of Indigenous peoples throughout BC, and protect the authenticity of Indigenous arts for future generations.

The Authentic Indigenous Arts initiative was designed to provide a simple way to clearly identify authentic Indigenous art, and protection of the art.  It was also created to educate consumers, travellers and resellers on the positive community impact of buying authentic Indigenous art and crafts; to influence consumers, travellers and resellers to seek out and purchase authentic Indigenous products in British Columbia; and to nurture economic and cultural sustainability in First Nations communities throughout the province.

“Over the years, as interest in local Indigenous art has grown, we unfortunately have experienced an influx of knock offs into the market,” says Keith Henry, CEO of Aboriginal Tourism BC. “We want the consumers to buy authentic Indigenous art with confidence.  Thanks to the work of Shain Jackson, and the Authentic Indigenous Arts team, the Authentic Indigenous Arts initiative is a simple way for consumers to identify authenticity and make a conscious choice to contribute to supporting local Aboriginal communities and artists.”

It is estimated that the sale of Northwest Coast art generates more than $100M annually in Vancouver, BC alone. British Columbia is home to the largest number of Indigenous artists, with almost one-third of the country’s Indigenous artists (about 900 artists or 29 per cent of the Canadian total). These artists account for 3.8 per cent of all artists in BC.

“Arts and culture are integral for enhancing the visitors experience, especially as we have an increasing number of visitors seeking an authentic experience. This program is another way to enhance the visitor’s experience when travelling to BC,” says Brenda Baptiste, Chair of AtBC.

“As an artist myself, it has always been important that Indigenous artists are at the heart of this process,” says Shain Jackson, owner of Spirit Works Ltd. “Our goal now is to get every BC Indigenous artist signed up for the initiative, as well as resellers to support the program.  If we work together, this will be the single biggest shift in control over our artwork that has happened since contact, and in addition the single biggest shift in resources from the sale of our artwork.  And on top of this, the consumers now have a trusted way to ensure they are purchasing local Indigenous art.”

The program uses a three tier process to certify Aboriginal artwork as well as products carrying Aboriginal designs. Each tier corresponds to a defined area within the Aboriginal art market, which allows for maximum participation by Aboriginal artists in what is being sold in addition to ensuring fair value is going back to artisans and their communities.

More than 31 Indigenous artists attended the pilot Authentic Indigenous Arts workshop in Victoria this past June, provided feedback on the tier system and also developed a greater understanding of how valued their work is by consumers. Also as part of the program any retailer who commits to stocking at least 30 per cent of their Indigenous -themed products as endorsed by the Authentic Indigenous initiative may become a recommended retailer.

Throughout the summer, AtBC piloted an additional two workshops to create a group of more than 200 artisans and 7 retailers who are now supporting the Authentic Indigenous Arts initiative.

“Our artists are very excited about this initiative,” says Workshop facilitator and Program Coordinator, Lou-ann Ika’wega Neel. “This is the first time in nearly 30 years that our artists have had this level of support on a provincial level; and we are really looking forward to engaging directly with the public to share the rich and sophisticated artistic traditions of our people.”

The Authentic Indigenous Artisan Program tiers include:

Tier 1:

If an artist, or an artist via an Indigenous company, designs, produces, and distributes a piece of artwork or an Indigenous art product it will be permitted to display a “Tier 1” Authentic Indigenous stamp or tag. This tag ensures that Indigenous artists and craftspeople have been remunerated for their work, while at the same time the integrity of their designs is being protected.

Tier 2:

Tier 2 has been designed to assist Indigenous arts entrepreneurs and allow them to compete in a market where there has traditionally been no Indigenous involvement. If an Indigenous art product is designed by an Indigenous person and distributed by an Indigenous person or business, but made by others outside the Indigenous community, that product will be permitted to display a “Tier 2” Authentic Indigenous stamp or tag.

Tier 3:

Tier 3 products bear the artwork of an Indigenous artist who has been fairly compensated for their work and has also approved the final design. The producer and/or distributor need not be Indigenous.

Further Authentic Indigenous Arts workshops are scheduled throughout the year, with information on locations and dates available through the new website

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