British Columbia

Okanagan Indian Band says Ogopogo children's book 'misappropriates' culture

Author said her book "is a children's story meant to excite their imaginations through a fictional lens," and said that the indigenous legend she refers to in the book is about a chief from an unidentified First Nation.

Author said her book 'is a children's story meant to excite their imaginations through a fictional lens.'

Victoria writer Dorothy Hawes' book 'Ogopogo Odyssey' was illustrated by Maggie Parr, who works for Disney in Los Angeles, California. (Dorothy Hawes/Maggie Parr)

The chief of the Okanagan Indian Band is accusing Dorothy Hawes of cultural misappropriation.



Hawes, a Victoria teacher and author, met with a representative from the Okanagan Indian Band before her book Ogopogo Odyssey was published.

Maggie Parr (left) and Dorothy Hawes, who met at a writers' conference and collaborated on this book from their home bases in LA and Victoria respectively. (CBC)



"[The book] misappropriates our culture and our beliefs and our structures," said Chief Byron Louis in an interview with CBC News.



The book Ogopogo Odyssey tells the story of a young boy who has a chance sighting of the creature while visiting his grandparents in the Okanagan Valley, and meets a First Nations woman who tells him an indigenous story about the N'ha-a-itk, as it is referred to by First Nations.



Author, First Nations rep did meet



Chief Byron Louis confirmed that Hawes met with a person from the band's Territorial Stewardship Division in February 2016, but he said Hawes was advised during that meeting that the Okanagan Indian Band did not support her book and did not want her to publish it.



In an email statement to CBC News Hawes denied that claim and said she was told the book was not offensive to the First Nation. She said the meeting allowed her to make changes to correct the "spelling for N'ha-a-itk and referencing of the Okanagan Syilx People."



Chief Louis also said that Hawes' book incorporates cultural elements from other First Nations.



He said some of the page borders are of Coast Salish design, the carvings in the book are Northwest Coastal carvings, and he said there are also elements from indigenous communities in the southwestern U.S.



"Again if you are going to appropriate their designs, their culture, I think there's a requirement to at least approach them and ask them because this is what those designs reflect. I mean, how many inaccuracies do you actually need before you start questioning the authenticity of the actual book?"



A legend of a visiting chief



Hawes said in her email to CBC News that the First Nations legend she was referring to in her book involves a person named Chief Timbasket, who she said she and the person she met with from the Okanagan Indian Band agreed was not a chief who came from that community.



"Given that Chief Timbasket is a visiting chief — there is no record of where he comes from — so potentially he could be from any other tribe in the province (or elsewhere)," Hawes wrote.



Chief Louis also said that Hawes should have approached his community earlier if she wanted to "really respect and help us share our culture."



"If you're really serious about wanting to have people learn about a culture, you don't come in there with a finished product. At that point you are not serious about seeking to make sure that your book is authentic and everything is being followed. What you're doing is you're looking for some type of check in the list that says, 'Yes, I've consulted."



Chief Louis said there are online guides to help people go through the process of consulting with First Nations, like the one on Simon Fraser University's website and another available through the First Nations Education Steering Committee.



'A fictional lens'



Hawes said in her email that "many other non-indigenous people have written about this same myth many times."


"At the very heart of this discussion should be the recognition that this is a children's story meant to excite their imaginations through a fictional lens.  It plays into all sorts of mythical ideas from pirates to mermaids and mysterious lake creatures," she wrote.


"I grew up in Vernon, so the Ogopogo and the stories surrounding the mysterious lake creature are very much a part of my heritage. The Ogopogo itself is a Canadian icon (just as the Loch Ness monster is to Scotland) and the story of Chief Timbasket is in the public domain, so in meeting with the OKIB, my intention always was to show them courtesy and respect by letting them know about the book."



When asked how he responds to this book being a work of fiction, Chief Louis said the book adds to ongoing stereotypes about First Nations people and culture.


But he said that they do encourage writers trying to learn about their culture and history.