British Columbia

B.C. city gives Ogopogo copyright to First Nation after cultural appropriation concerns

Last Monday, Vernon city council voted to give its ownership of the Ogopogo name to the Syilx Nation, after members of Indigenous communities questioned why the city recently gave permission to a local book author to use the name, which carries religious meaning.

Vernon had owned intellectual property of the mythical lake serpent since 1956

The statue of mythical sea serpent Ogopogo on display in downtown Kelowna, B.C. Last Monday, the City of Vernon in the north Okanagan passed a motion to give the copyright of the Ogopogo name to the Syilx First Nation. (Winston Szeto/CBC)

The City of Vernon, B.C., has given up the copyright to a mythical creature's name and transferred it to the Syilx Nation, following criticism of cultural appropriation from Indigenous communities.

Last Monday, city council passed a motion by a 4-3 vote to relinquish the right of assigning who can use the name of Ogopogo. The copyright was given to the city in July 1956 from previous copyright holder A.G. Seabrook.

The name Ogopogo is a gibberish word derived from n ̓x̌ax̌aitkʷ in the the Syilx language — pronounced "n-ha-ha-it-koo" — meaning "something in the water," according to Chief Byron Louis of the Okanagan Indian Band, one of the seven communities of the Syilx Nation in B.C.

Louis says the mythical animal is believed to inhabit Okanagan Lake. 

He says Indigenous communities had a flurry of conversations earlier this month questioning why Vernon city council gave permission to a local author to use the Ogopogo name in his new book.

Louis says the Ogopogo's name and story carry religious meaning to the Syilx Nation.

"[For] someone else to actually say that 'I can actually own that [Ogopogo name] through my laws,' that is cultural appropriation," Louis said Monday to Dominika Lirette, the guest host of CBC's Daybreak South.

Mayor Victor Cumming declined CBC's request for comment, saying he cannot disclose any information about the vote that was done in a closed-door council meeting. 

Under B.C. government regulations, local governments may close their meetings to the public under certain circumstances, such as receiving legal advice on issues that impact the municipality.

In a written statement to CBC News, Coun. Akbal Mund — who voted in favour of transferring the Ogopogo copyright to the Syilx Nation — said the City of Vernon has never gained any monetary benefits from the copyright.

Louis says he commends the city's decision to give the copyright to the Syilx Nation, and he will work with elders and knowledge holders on how to appropriately use the intellectual property.

Tap the link below to hear Chief Byron Louis on Daybreak South:

Chief Byron Louis of the Okanagan Indian Band speaks to Dominika Lirette about returning the copyright of the mythical sea serpent's name to the Syilx First Nation. 5:54

With files from Daybreak South and Zameer Karim

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