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The design of the sweater worn by the woman in the centre in this photo has prompted First Nations allegations of a "ripoff." ((CBC))

Members of the Cowichan First Nation on Vancouver Island say the Hudson's Bay Company ripped off their design for one of the most sought-after pieces of Canada's Olympic uniforms.

The First Nation says it bid to knit its traditional sweaters for the Games, but instead the company went with a knock-off.

The art of knitting what locals call "the Cowichan sweater" has been handed down from generation to generation, Cowichan elder Jenny Martin told CBC News Wednesday.

"My mom taught me how to knit when I was 15 … and my mom hand-made sweaters and ponchos," Martin said.

Martin said the Bay's version of the sweater has an elk and a maple leaf but lacks authenticity.

"It's not Cowichan-made," she said.

The local MLA said the situation makes him angry.

"VANOC has threatened legal action against businesses that use the Olympic logo or even use the word 'Olympic,'" said the B.C. NDP's Bill Routley. "But they made no effort to accommodate the creators of the Cowichan design."

Quantity an issue

A provincial government spokeswoman defended the design.

"It was a matter of finding a quantity of knitwear in a time frame, and apparently it was a fair and open process," said B.C. Minister of State for the Olympics, Mary McNeil.

The Bay also suggests concerns about sufficient quantities was a prime issue in making their choice.

"Hudson's Bay Company worked with a Canadian, world-class supplier of traditional and contemporary hand-knit sweaters who offers both the technical knitting expertise and effective business operations to help produce a quality product in the quantity that we anticipate needing," the company said in a news release.