The Royal B.C. Museum gift shop — the Royal Museum Shop — in Victoria is auditing its suppliers following a Facebook post from local artist Richard Hunt. (Kevin Menz/News Staff)

Facebook post questioning Indigenous artwork prompts gift-shop response

Royal Museum Shop backs policy but commits to supplier audit

Richard Hunt was “pissed off” when he posted to Facebook about his frustrations with gift-shop artwork he thought was ripped off from Indigenous artists.

“I just got pissed off when I saw it. I thought, ‘It’s still happening. It’s getting worse.’ That’s why I posted it,” Hunt, a 68-year-old Kwa-guilth artist, said Tuesday.

The June 23 post, a photo of work featured in the Royal B.C. Museum gift shop, included a caption from Hunt describing the work as “fake.” He did not know at the time the Indigenous artists behind the pieces receive royalties or profitted from selling the rights to the works.

The Royal B.C. Museum Foundation’s Christa Cato, the shop’s buyer, said the shop’s policy is to purchase original artwork directly from Indigenous British Columbia artists or to ensure any reproduced work coming from a supplier includes an agreement with the Indigenous artist. The artist must give approval for the use of the work and the supplier must pay the artist a royalty or have a licensing fee for the work.

“It’s something that we take very seriously,” Cato said, noting some companies do sell Indigenous artwork without agreement from the artists and without offering royalties.

The policy was first developed nearly three decades ago.

“If there’s any question around the product, any question around the origin of the product, it’s a ‘no,’” added the foundation’s executive director, Cristi Main. “The policy is pretty simple.”

READ ALSO: Aging totem pole comes down at ceremony outside Royal B.C. Museum

Both foundation staff said the group always audits suppliers when looking at purchasing new items but is now, because of Hunt’s post, also checking back on supplier agreements for items the gift shop has carried for years to ensure the items follow the policy.

“It’s the new items we really constantly are auditing,” Main said. “What we are doing now is going back to items we’ve carried for a long, long time and have been produced for a long, long time.”

The supplier’s incentive for not lying to the foundation about the agreements, according to Main: “Their reputation and our business.”

Hunt learned of the royalties Tuesday, more than a week after the Facebook post, after speaking to a Haida artist. He said he was pleased to find out that Indigenous artists are profitting from the sales, adding that when he shared the post he was frustrated seeing artwork he believes was not created by Indigenous artists being sold in Victoria’s downtown.

The post was still up on Facebook as of Tuesday evening, and Hunt said he likely will not be removing it. He may, however, include an update or comment with the information he received from the Haida artist, he said.

The museum foundation — not the museum — runs the Royal Museum Shop.

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