Au­then­ti­cally Inuit

In­dige­nous artists through­out the world have de­vel­oped trade­marks to pro­tect and pro­mote the au­then­tic­ity of their art.¹ Inuit artists in Canada were among the first, and their mark is known as the Igloo Tag. Its story dates back to the post-war de­vel­opme

Inuit Art Quarterly - - CONTENTS - by Les­lie Boyd

As early as the mid-1950s, coun­ter­feits of Inuit art made their way to Cana­dian shores. The re­sponse? The Igloo Tag Trade­mark. Now, for the first time, the mark will be man­aged by Inuit, for Inuit.

The key play­ers in the story were, in ad­di­tion to the Inuit carvers and crafts­peo­ple, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s Department of In­dian Af­fairs and North­ern De­vel­op­ment (DIAND; now In­dige­nous and North­ern Af­fairs Canada [INAC]), the Que­bec branch of the Cana­dian Hand­i­crafts Guild (now The Guild), the Hud­son’s Bay Com­pany and James and Alma Hous­ton. The Guild had been in­volved in the sup­port of Inuit crafts­peo­ple as early as 1911, but their ef­forts took a firm hold when Hous­ton went on his now leg­endary sketch­ing trip to Inukjuak in 1948. The Guild’s in­au­gu­ral ex­hi­bi­tion in the fall of 1949 marked the be­gin­ning of the Inuit art phe­nom­e­non. Inuit art’s in­stan­ta­neous pop­u­lar­ity soon at­tracted coun­ter­feit­ers. As early as the mid-1950s, mass-pro­duced repli­cas of “Inuit carv­ings” started reach­ing the Cana­dian mar­ket­place from over­seas. Ini­tially, these were ob­jects made of resin com­pound that mim­icked Inuit themes and style, but over the years man­u­fac­tur­ers ex­panded their prod­uct lines and went out of their way to present them as if they were gen­uinely tra­di­tional. Some adopted Inuit sound­ing names and in­cluded “artist” bi­ogra­phies and Inuit leg­ends and sto­ries in ac­com­pa­ny­ing mer­chan­dis­ing cards. Oth­ers re­ferred to “truly tal­ented artists” who were fas­ci­nated with “Canada’s north­ern cul­ture” and “ex­press[ed] this cul­ture in soap­stone.”2 Most stopped just short of claim­ing that the “artists” were Inuit, but they all blurred the truth with lin­guis­tic trick­ery and mar­ket­ing mumbo jumbo. Widely dubbed “fakelore”, the prac­tice rep­re­sents not just an eco­nomic chal­lenge to Inuit com­mu­ni­ties en­gaged in the pro­duc­tion of orig­i­nal art, but bla­tant ap­pro­pri­a­tion of Inuit cul­tural tra­di­tions and prac­tices that in­form their work. When these im­posters first ap­peared, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment was quick to re­spond. DIAND de­vel­oped the Cana­dian Eskimo Art and De­sign (CEAAD) mark, reg­is­ter­ing it in 1958 to pro­tect both the con­sumer and the Inuit carver from mass-pro­duced im­i­ta­tions. The sym­bol cho­sen to rep­re­sent the au­then­tic­ity of Inuit-made prod­ucts was a styl­ized igloo with the words “Eskimo Art”, or later “Eskimo Art Esqi­mau”, in­cor­po­rated in the de­sign of the mark. There­after the mark be­came uni­ver­sally known as the Igloo Tag.

At the out­set, the Igloo Tag pro­gram was ad­min­is­tered through the fed­eral gov­ern­ment by way of nine ad­di­tional au­tho­rized Inuit art dis­trib­u­tors, who were for­mally li­censed to use the tag. Five are still ac­tive and use the tag as a guar­an­tee of au­then­tic­ity. They are The Guild, La Fédéra­tion des coopéra­tives du Nou­veau-Québec (FCNQ), Cana­dian Arc­tic Pro­duc­ers (CAP), the West Baf­fin Eskimo Co-op­er­a­tive and the Gov­ern­ment of Nu­navut and its arms. Un­til the early 1980s, DIAND sup­ported the tag and its dis­trib­u­tors through a pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion cam­paign and mon­i­tored its use by the au­tho­rized li­censees. In 1984, DIAND’s North­ern Pro­gram was dis­solved and sub­se­quent de­part­men­tal re­struc­tur­ing marked the be­gin­ning of the end of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s ac­tive in­volve­ment with the Igloo Tag. Many stud­ies have been com­mis­sioned over the years to re­solve what came to be known as “the Igloo Tag dilemma.”3 DIAND no longer wanted to com­mit re­sources to the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the tag but they still owned the trade­mark, and the tag was still in wide­spread use. Every study also con­cluded that the tag had con­sid­er­able value and po­ten­tial in the global pro­mo­tion of Inuit art. The dilemma was fi­nally re­solved in 2014 when the newly named Abo­rig­i­nal Af­fairs and North­ern De­vel­op­ment Canada (for­merly DIAND, now INAC) be­gan the process of trans­fer­ring the Igloo Tag pro­gram to the newly re­con­sti­tuted Inuit Art Foun­da­tion (IAF), Canada’s Inuit-gov­erned, na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to sup­port­ing the work of Inuit artists. On March 9, 2017, the IAF took full own­er­ship and con­trol of the trade­mark. For the first time, the Igloo Tag Trade­mark is be­ing over­seen and man­aged by Inuit, for Inuit. The past two years have pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity to re­assess the sig­nif­i­cance of the tag within the chang­ing land­scape of con­tem­po­rary Inuit art. Re­search un­der­taken by the IAF, as well as by INAC through their 2017 Im­pact of the Inuit Arts Economy study, has re­vealed that the tag is widely rec­og­nized in the south­ern mar­ket­place but has fairly low recog­ni­tion among Inuit artists them­selves. This is not sur­pris­ing since the artist has not tra­di­tion­ally been in­volved in the mar­ket­ing and dis­tri­bu­tion of their work. That’s chang­ing, and one of the goals of the IAF’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions plan is to raise aware­ness of the trade­mark in the North and at the com­mu­nity level. The eco­nomic im­pact of the tag, how­ever, re­mains strong. The 2017 study de­ter­mined that col­lec­tors are will­ing to pay more for a work with the trade­mark than one with­out, by as much as $117 on av­er­age, which gen­er­ates ap­prox­i­mately $3.5 mil­lion a year in ad­di­tional rev­enues through the five legacy li­censees. Another ob­jec­tive of the IAF’s out­reach is to de­ter­mine if and how the tag can be ex­panded to in­clude all artis­tic dis­ci­plines in the North. Inuit artists now em­brace many dis­ci­plines in ad­di­tion to tra­di­tional fine arts and crafts, in­clud­ing the per­form­ing arts, lit­er­ary arts and film and me­dia arts. Pre­lim­i­nary con­ver­sa­tions with artists and or­ga­ni­za­tions pro­mot­ing these dis­ci­plines show sup­port for a na­tional brand and pro­gram to sup­port artists and raise aware­ness of their work. The Igloo Tag is still per­ceived as a mark of Inuit au­then­tic­ity and this is very im­por­tant to In­dige­nous groups around the world, es­pe­cially as the is­sues around cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion are more widely dis­cussed. Inuit com­mu­ni­ties ben­e­fit enor­mously from the sale of gen­uine, orig­i­nal art, and the need for broader ed­u­ca­tion about con­tem­po­rary Inuit life and cul­ture is still great. The Igloo Tag has a role to play in coun­ter­ing the mis­in­for­ma­tion sur­round­ing the mar­ket­ing of Inuit art and the Inuit Art Foun­da­tion has a well-timed op­por­tu­nity to en­hance its vis­i­bil­ity and ex­pand its role.

LEFT Bryan Win­ters, Alysa Pro­cida and El­iz­a­beth Logue fol­low­ing the of­fi­cial trans­fer of the Igloo Tag in Iqaluit, NU, 2017

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