Nova Scotia

Mi'kmaw artist says Indigenous Games logo copied her style

Mi'kmaw artist Melissa Labrador said she was shocked when she saw the North American Indigenous Games 2020 logo, which resembled her original style of art.

Organizers offered Melissa Labrador a public apology, then backtracked

The logo for the 2020 North American Indigenous Games closely resembles the style of Mi'kmaw artist Melissa Labrador. (North American Indigenous Games website)

Mi'kmaw artist Melissa Labrador said she was shocked when she saw the North American Indigenous Games 2020 logo, which resembled her original style of art.

In an emailed statement on Sunday, the host society for the Games said it erred in not recognizing the logo was inspired by Labrador's work.

The design of three canoeing figures with triangular-shaped bodies, another triangle inside the body and a teardrop-shaped head is Labrador's contemporary take on Mi'kmaw petroglyphs, she said.

Labrador said the society did not contact her about her art or acknowledge it used it for inspiration until she contacted them. 

"That's my signature teardrop," said Labrador, who is from the Wildcat community of Acadia First Nation. "Those images that I make are based on petroglyphs, but they're not petroglyphs in themselves.

"There's no teardrop shape to any of the petroglyph images in Nova Scotia that I know of. It's something that I just did years ago.

"This art looked very much like mine."

A painting by Melissa Labrador. (Submitted by Melissa Labrador)

The largest collection of petroglyphs — etchings in stone — in Eastern North America are located in Kejimkujik National Park. Labrador's father, Todd Labrador, has been a guardian and interpreter of the petroglyphs in the park for decades.

The works of multiple Mi'kmaw artists were considered when designing the logo, the statement said.

"[The] Host Society would like to acknowledge that our logo was inspired by Mi'kmaw artist Melissa Sue Labrador.

"In our excitement to reveal our brand, we erred in recognizing Melissa and going forward we will continue to honour and respect the beautiful artistry of her work and the Mi'kmaw people which inspired the design of the logo."

Melissa Labrador and her father, Todd Labrador, outside Liverpool, N.S. (Elizabeth McMillan/CBC)

The society initially said the logo was "inspired by traditional Mi'kmaw artistry" in a press release for an event unveiling the logo on Wednesday. The event was attended by Wagmatcook Chief Norman Bernard, Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland Morley Googoo, Halifax Mayor Mike Savage and Nova Scotia Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage Leo Glavine.

Labrador started getting messages from friends asking her if she had designed the logo.

Public apology offered, then backtracked

Last week, Rod Jacobs, executive director of marketing for the 2020 North American Indigenous Games, contacted her and was apologetic, Labrador said.

The society planned to make a public apology to her in an upcoming TV interview, she said.

On Sunday afternoon, Labrador said they took that offer off the table.

She said they told her there wouldn't be enough time in the interview to make an apology. Instead, they told her they planned to write an article for some Indigenous media outlets, she said. 

"I'm a little upset that they're no longer going to be publicly apologizing. I think it's unfortunate," she said.

Some of Melissa Labrador's work is based on Mi'kmaw petroglyphs, but with a unique teardrop design. (Submitted by Melissa Labrador)

Going forward, she hopes the society will see this as a learning opportunity.

"They could learn from this so that it doesn't happen again. I'm not one to get angry, I'd rather work with people so that we can make sure things like this don't happen.

"This is important when you're dealing with a piece of somebody, like art. It's just very important to respect people."

Todd Labrador, who also builds Mi'kmaw canoes, noted the canoe in the logo is not Mi'kmaq, but rather something resembling a Cree canoe.

"Our culture is being slowly lost, so it's very important that we keep authenticity in our area," said Labrador.

"We're rarely ever called upon to give advice or an opinion, which is unfortunate because if you want to learn about an area, it's really best to go to that area and talk to the people." 

Halifax will host the 2020 North American Indigenous Games in July. 

With files from Elizabeth McMillan