Olympics Shut out Native Businesses, Outsources Production of Native Crafts
Native businessman upset at VANOC’s outsourcing of aboriginal products
Sunday, December 20, 2009, By Damian Inwood, The Province/Canwest News Service
The First Nations owner of a North Shore company says Vancouver 2010 has “stolen” the authentic aboriginal product brand and put it on items made in China.
“Our branding has been usurped or appropriated or stolen by this monster organization — and now their suppliers stand to profit to the tune of millions of dollars,” said Shain Jackson, owner of Spirit Works Ltd.
“Our biggest issue with the Olympics is this: If you Google the term ‘authentic aboriginal products,’ the first item you see is the 2010 site.”
That web page includes a selection of T-shirts, baseball caps and purses manufactured offshore.
Jackson says they don’t look like anything produced by aboriginal people. And while 2010 sponsors like HBC stand to make millions of dollars in sales, Jackson says his business is nearing bankruptcy.
Spirit Works specializes in items like bentwood cedar boxes and jewelry inlaid with abalone.
Its items sell in 70 retail outlets, including the Vancouver Art Gallery, Grouse Mountain, the Museum of Anthropology, the Bill Reid Gallery and the Royal B.C. Museum.
Jackson, a 38-year-old former aboriginal rights lawyer, said he invested $500,000 in the two-year-old company after believing promises about 2010 native opportunities: “If there is anything that I thought they could never outsource, it’s authentic aboriginal products.”
“We’re going to make it through the Christmas season by the skin of our teeth,” he said. Then, on the eve of the Games, he says he’s going to start laying off his four employees.
Jackson, originally from Sechelt, said he bid on a contract to supply the Four Host First Nations pavilion, but was only offered enough business to make a $300 profit.
Jackson said he could have easily doubled his staff and made thousands of bentwood boxes and pieces of jewelry each month, and outsourced jobs to native communities to do sanding, gluing and inlay work.
He plans to post a blog and a petition online for people to sign in support of aboriginal businesses.
Tewanee Joseph, CEO of the Four Host First Nations, denied that Vancouver 2010 stole the “authentic” brand from aboriginal people.
“We define aboriginal products by who creates the artwork behind it,” he said.
He said Jackson is entitled to his opinion, but that there are many definitions of “authentic.”
“Even if a totem pole is created today, you probably use a chainsaw, which wasn’t done hundreds of years ago,” Joseph added.
He said B.C. aboriginal artists will get a huge amount of exposure from the Olympics.
“We have a number of products in our aboriginal line,” said Dennis Kim, 2010’s director of licensing and merchandising, “from our Inuksuit sculptures, which are hand-made by Inuit, from a single piece of local stone found in the Arctic, to other items that feature authentic aboriginal artwork, which are applied to products produced by our licensees, some with facilities in Canada and some with facilities off-shore.”
Kim said one-third of royalties from aboriginal products goes to the Vancouver 2010 Aboriginal Youth Legacy Fund.
Email 2010 Olympics reporter Damian Inwood at email@example.com