British Columbia

B.C. race pulls 'First Nations-inspired' medal after appropriation backlash

The Vancouver Running Festival posted a photo of the medal design on Facebook last week that it said was inspired by First Nations art, but was not created by an Indigenous artist.

Organization says it will work with the First Nations art community to design a new medal

A non-Indigenous design team created this medal, saying it was 'inspired by the work and aesthetic of native artists of Canada,' for the Vancouver Running Festival's Seawall Race. Organizers were met with backlash after posting a photo of the medal on Facebook. (Vancouver Running Festival/Facebook)

Organizers of a Vancouver race won't be handing out First Nations "inspired" medals it commissioned for a run this month, following a social media backlash because the medals weren't designed by an Indigenous artist.

The Vancouver Running Festival (VRF) posted a photo of the design on Facebook last week, in anticipation of the James Cunningham Seawall Race in Stanley Park.

The caption said the badge — depicting a bear holding a salmon in its mouth — was "inspired by the work and aesthetic of native artists of Canada and the U.S., but was not created by a First Nations member."

Allison Beardsworth, originally from the Dene First Nation in the Northwest Territories, has been a part of Vancouver's running community for about four years. She's registered for the seawall race.

"I saw [the design] and sort of said, 'OK, then that's problematic,'" Beardsworth said.

"First Nations art created here is world-renowned, identifiable, beautiful and it tells stories. So when a medal is designed and it's a bear holding a fish and there's no real reason behind it, it doesn't make a lot of sense," she added.

Beardworth said appropriating Indigenous art doesn't leave enough space for authentic artists to be showcased.

Social media users were also quick to condemn the medals.

"This is absolutely appalling. You literally just said you appropriated First Nations' artwork," one commenter wrote on Facebook.

"There's no shortage of [First Nations] artists you could have commissioned to design your medal and finding one isn't difficult ... shame on you," said another.

Festival apologizes

On Monday, a festival spokesperson apologized for the medals and said they won't be handed out on race day.

"We truly regret that the medal design has created controversy and distress for some," organizers said in a statement.

"The medal design ... was intended to pay homage to the rich cultural heritage of the First Nations through its interpretation of two Indigenous animals of the Pacific Northwest."

The spokesperson said the organization will work with the First Nations art community to contract an artist to design a new medal for this year's race.

They also said they will make a donation to a "soon-to-be-named First Nations organization."

Opportunity for education

Beardsworth said it's unfortunate the appropriation happened at all, but hopes it can be used as an opportunity for education.

She cited the Authentic Indigenous Art Initiative, a group working to ensure Indigenous art is validated and well-represented in the marketplace.

Beardsworth said the group teaches people about appropriation and why it shouldn't happen. She said she encouraged officials with the running festival to read the initiative's website.

"I think that living in Vancouver, where we just had the walk for reconciliation and we live in a city where the mayor has recognized we live on unceded Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Watuth territory, things like this should happen less or not at all," Beardsworth said.

"Chief Ian Campbell said once, 'We will not be invisible in in our land' — and it's true."