New Fire

When culture is commodified

For indigenous artists, commodifying your work can be complicated. Watching others pick up your craft can also be unsettling. As a young weaver, Meghann O'Brien faces the challenge of creating cultural art while making a living doing it - and weighs in on “trendy” traditional goods.
Yelth Koo (Raven's Tail) is a style of weaving specific to the Northwest Coast of B.C. (meghannobrien.com)
Listen5:05

Selling your work as an indigenous artist can be complicated. Watching others pick up your craft can also be unsettling.

As a young weaver of Kwakwaka'wakw, Haida and Irish descent, Meghann O'Brien says she a found balance early on between the cultural traditions and commercial aspects of her work.

I've had some really great teachings passed on to me... that are really core and important to working with these cultural traditions that have so much history.- Meghann O'Brien

Meghann is thoughtful when you ask her about cultural appropriation, especially in the context of indigenous weaving techniques gaining popularity.

What makes her uncomfortable, she says, is when non-indigenous people can sign up for a weekend class, learn some new skills and walk away.

"I wouldn't see anything wrong with non-Native people doing it if there was more information provided to them about the culture it's coming from and the history we've faced," she said.

"There's so much you have to deal with as a First Nations person. It's almost like when you're outside of the culture and you just get to take this one piece of it that you like - it's like taking the candy or something… and I don't think that's really fair."

To hear Meghann's full interview click the "listen" button above.

To see her work up close, check out this video shot by Darcy Turenne. It features a robe Meghann created over the course of three years called "Sky Blanket."