Entertainment

Winners, losers emerge in native art deal

When Vancouver was granted the Olympics, the organizing committee struck a formal partnership with four First Nations who claim the lands where the Games are to be held and spoke of showcasing native culture to the world. But some native people say the promise of jobs, training, and business opportunities for aboriginals is proving empty.
Xwa Lack Tun, shown carving in his Vancouver studio, provides designs for Olympic goods. (Margo Kelly)
When Vancouver was granted the Olympics, the organizing committee struck a formal partnership with four First Nations who claim the lands where the Games are to be held and spoke of showcasing native culture to the world.

Some native people say the promise of jobs, training, and business opportunities for aboriginal residents is proving empty and the benefits are flowing to an elite few.

"There's an incredible opportunity for aboriginal people to be showcased," Tewanee Joseph, head of the First Host First Nations, told CBC News.

At the aboriginal pavilion in downtown Vancouver, singer Buffy Sainte-Marie is the opening act in the venue on Thursday, one of hundreds of aboriginal artists from around the world coming to the Olympics.

"We've done about 170 programs, which includes artwork at all the venues, the retail merchandising deal, over $57 million in contracting has gone to aboriginal businesses," Joseph said.

Native artist Xwa Lack Tun won a competition  to provide designs for Olympic retail products — everything from Thunderbird T-shirts to gold coins. One-third of VANOC's royalties from sales of licenced aboriginal products will go into a fund for aboriginal youth.

"I just feel great that I was a part of it. The world is coming here so I want them to see what Coast Salish design is all about," he said, as he worked on a cedar carving in his West Vancouver studio.

Feels left out

Shain Jackson says Olympic officials bypassed his crafts business to buy at the Bay. (Margo Kelly)

North Vancouver native artist Shain Jackson feels like he's been left out of the Olympic largesse. He left his job as an aboriginal rights lawyer to run the Spirit Works handicraft business when he heard the Olympics would benefit native business. But it hasn't worked out that way.

"Somebody from VANOC wanted to purchase almost $10,000 worth of our products — came back and retracted that interest because she was told she had to buy them from Hudson's Bay Company," he told CBC News.

Jackson has started a sticker campaign to identify goods that are designed and made by aboriginal artists and he's had the support of other native artists in that campaign.

VANOC already has a program to identify "authentic aboriginal products" but many products that actually got that sticker were made in China. 

"We're not against the Olympics. What we're against is people trying to profit off our culture at the expense of our people that need the resources," Jackson said.

Some VANOC-sanctioned products sold at the Bay were made in China, including a sweater remarkably similar to the native Cowichan one. 

After the Cowichan Tribes threatened to protest during the torch relay, VANOC came to a deal allowing them to sell their handknit sweaters at the Games. 

The deal came too late for them to make many of the traditional sweaters, which will sell for $400, while the ones from China will sell for $350.

With files from CBC's Margo Kelly

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