Nova Scotia

Mi'kmaw artists may soon have access to logo of authenticity

Mi'kmaw artists could soon have an option some believe would add value to their work and might help them reach a wider audience.

Goal is to help artists better market their work, increase 'cultural tourism' around Mi'kmaw crafts

Artist Loretta Gould, right, is shown with one of her original artworks entitled Live Strong. (Loretta Gould)

Mi'kmaw artists could soon have an option some believe would add value to their work and might help them reach a wider audience — just in time for the next tourism season. 

The Mi'kmaq Rights Initiative, based at Millbrook First Nation in central Nova Scotia, is developing a logo or mark of authenticity for cultural products, with the goal of having it ready for next April.

It's part of a wider strategy on cultural tourism being developed by the organization, which is also known as the KMKNO. 

"The chiefs really wanted to put an emphasis on cultural tourism and really look for ways to build on cultural tourism so that we could improve our social and economic conditions for Mi'kmaq here in Nova Scotia," said Shannon Monk, the organization's cultural tourism project manager. 

"Tourism is just such an incredible opportunity to capitalize on the interest of visitors coming to Nova Scotia." 

Monk began a year ago by consulting elders in the community to develop guidelines on what should be shared with tourists. The organization is now running sessions with the wider community to gain further perspective.

Shannon Monk is with the Mi'kmaq Rights Initiative. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

The initial feedback said some public experiences such as mawiomi, or powwow, can and should be shared, while some experiences that are personal and sacred, such as naming ceremonies, should not be. 

Feedback was positive around sharing products like Nova Scotia seafood, which Monk points out is the traditional food of the Mi'kmaq.

Crafts such as jewelry or paintings could also provide a good income for artists and entrepreneurs, but it's important the items be authentic. 

Huge topic of discussion

Monk said authenticity is a huge topic of discussion in Indigenous communities right now. That's why the first step in the strategy was to develop the mark of authenticity for crafts. 

"Unanimously, people feel that if it's going to be authentic it needs to originate, it needs to be controlled, it needs to be developed by Mi'kmaq. That's the key piece," she said. "It can't be authentic if it doesn't come from the Mi'kmaw people." 

One artist who said she would be open to using a mark of authenticity is Mi'kmaw painter Loretta Gould, who has been busy with commissions lately.  

"I have four of them right now that are lined up," she said. "That's not even including the book that I'm working on." 

There's even been interest in using her work as part of a video game.

Mi'kmaq artist Loretta Gould says one of her favourite paintings is her work entitled Seal Hunter. A detail is shown here. (Loretta Gould)

Gould has been a self-taught professional painter from We'koqma'q First Nation for nine years, and before that she specialized in art quilts.

During a period when her sewing machine broke and was sent away for repair, her family and friends urged Gould to try out some paints her daughter was using. 

She's never looked back, and clients keep coming for her paintings and prints. 

"There's a lot of people on Facebook, Instagram, emails," she said. "They're all over."

"The furthest I sent a painting — about two years ago, I think it was — was Egypt. It took three months for him to receive it from me." 

Gould said she thinks her clients would probably appreciate a way to know the art is legitimately hers, because she's run into fakes twice. 

Her images were taken, put on a blanket, and sold. A friend tipped her off, but there was little that she could do because the sellers were in another country. 

"I'm flattered that somebody liked my artwork, but it's also a problem," she said. "Not just for me, but for other artists, too. I believe that once you have these images in your mind you put them out there for people to react to, not to steal. It's hard."

The way that artists would apply to use the upcoming logo or certification still has to be worked out. It's not clear yet what the logo would look like, or whether there would be a cost to use it.

Monk is an Indigenous woman with Mi'kmaq, Oji-Cree, and Celtic roots. She said research has shown there is a great interest internationally in Indigenous cultures.

Her organization believes that interest can become profitable for local people in a way that isn't exploitative.

Artists Loretta Gould and Peter Steele worked on a mural honouring reconciliation in downtown Sydney. (Nelson MacDonald and Charles Paul for CBC)

"When we first started doing the community sessions we weren't necessarily getting a lot of artists and crafters coming out," Monk said. "A lot of them would say, well I'm not involved in cultural tourism, I'm just an artist." 

She is encouraging people to think broadly. 

"Cultural tourism is an opportunity for all Mi'kmaq, because if you are involved in creating or making anything that's connected to the language or the culture that you are trying to monetize, then it's cultural tourism."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shaina Luck

Reporter

Shaina Luck is a reporter with CBC Nova Scotia. She has worked with national network programs, the CBC's Atlantic Investigative Unit, and the University of King's College school of journalism. Email: shaina.luck@cbc.ca

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