NHL totem poles called 'blatant cultural appropriation' pulled from some stores

Decorative totem poles featuring hockey-themed figures and logos for teams including the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs have been removed from shelves at nine Lawtons drugstore locations in Nova Scotia.

Manufacturer says small totem poles are officially licensed NHL merchandise

Hockey-themed totem poles with NHL-branded content were removed from store shelves at nine Lawtons stores across Nova Scotia. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

Hockey-themed totem poles have been removed from shelves at nine Lawtons drugstore locations across Nova Scotia, following a complaint that called them "blatant cultural appropriation."

Rebecca Thomas, who is Mi'kmaw and a former Halifax poet laureate, noticed the items and tweeted at the company. 

She wrote on Twitter that the items are "awful appropriative pieces of trash" that undermine West Coast Indigenous culture.

 

"Totem poles mean something to the communities who practice this tradition. All it would have taken was one person up the chain of command in procurement to stop and question this item," Thomas said in a statement to CBC News.

"Had this happened, Lawtons might not be in this current predicament."

Totem poles have long been created by First Nations on the West Coast, and are used to mark and commemorate things like ancestry, family history and certain events.

Lawtons quickly responded to Thomas and said it would be taking the merchandise off store shelves.

"We are in the process of connecting with the supplier to express our concerns and the feedback we received," Sarah McLean, director of external communications, said in an email to CBC News.

"We are committed to providing a positive and inclusive shopping experience for all of our customers."

NHL totems 'more caricatures of culture,' B.C. artist says

Carey Newman, an accomplished Sooke, B.C.-based multi-disciplinary artist and master carver of ​Kwakwak'awakw descent, said the NHL totems are "more caricatures of culture than they are appreciative of it."

Having carved many totems throughout his life, Newman told CBC News it was "disheartening to see something that you put your time and your soul into, that's taught to you through generations and passed down, taken so lightly and turned into essentially what looks like to me a joke."

Newman said Lawtons did the right thing by pulling the NHL totems from shelves.

"People make mistakes, organizations make mistakes. What's most important is how those organizations respond when they're confronted with a mistake," he said.

"If the first response from Lawtons was to pull it from the shelves, then that's a good move, that's the right move because then we can have the conversation and move forward."

But Newman said the NHL has a responsibility when it comes to the products it endorses.

"If an organization with the power and reach and wealth of the NHL said, 'No, we won't accept cultural appropriation,' then the drugstore wouldn't have had the option to purchase it in the first place."

According to the website of the totem pole's manufacturer, Evergreen Enterprises, the items are decorative and feature officially licensed logos from dozens of professional sports teams.

CBC News spoke to two public relations and social media officials at the National Hockey League, asking if the totem poles were licensed. Neither returned emailed questions containing pictures and descriptions of the items.

The teams featured include the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

Evergreen Enterprises range of totems include the Toronto Maple Leafs. Calls to the team's head office were not returned.

Other NHL teams with totems featured on the Evergreen Enterprises website include the Vancouver Canucks, the Montreal Canadiens and the Chicago Blackhawks

This 'Vancouver Canucks Tiki Totem Garden Statue' was for sale online at the Home Depot website for the Bellingham store in Washington State. (Homedepot.com)

About the Author

Brett Ruskin

Reporter/Videojournalist

Brett Ruskin is a reporter and videojournalist covering everything from local breaking news to national issues. He's based in Halifax.

With files from Anjuli Patil