SELF-IDENTIFIED "INDIGENOUS" ARTS & CRAFTS POSE A HUGE PROBLEM
As people start to get ready for the summer tourist season, it is important to keep in mind that fake native arts & crafts abound. Gift shops, roadside stands, and even cultural events such as pow wows and Metis celebrations can fall victim to an abundance of craft items being sold by dubious vendors or artisans claiming to be Aboriginal or Metis. This is especially problematic in Canada, where many people falsely claim to be Metis, but because of confusion about self-identification and a propensity for fraudulent people to claim indigenous identity based on a far distant (or even non-existent) ancestor it can be hard to tell because of clouded truths.
By some estimates, about three-quarters of Vancouver’s tourist shops sell counterfeit Indigenous artwork and crafts that are are produced by artisans without a shred of verifiable connection to any Indigenous community. This fact underscores the damage done to real Indigenous artisans, as having to compete with arts and crafts produced by non-Indigenous people - often charging pennies on the dollar for their fake artwork - prices for real Indigenous art get driven down, making it hard for Indigenous artists to charge good prices in an oversaturated market.
While the United States has some legal protections in place to help Indigenous artists, Canada doesn't have as stringent of policies to protect against cultural appropriation and fraud. This is because of the tradition of allowing self-identification to reign supreme. A distorted market means more money going into the pockets of fakes and less going into Indigenous communities, thereby harming attempts by Indigenous people to use their traditional art to provide a means of earning a living.
What can you do to help fight this problem?
First, always ask who produced the artwork or crafts. Ask what nation or community they come from. Red flags should pop up if you don't receive a solid answer, or if the answer is generic such as someone saying "Cree", or "Metis", but offering no specifics on which community they come from.
Don't feel like you're being rude for asking. It's your money and you have a right to get what you pay for. Also, making sure to buy Indigenous means that you are helping an Indigenous artisan earn a living.