A Harrison Hot Springs souvenir shop is facing major backlash in the wake of a lawsuit alleging the theft of original Indigenous art.
Vancouver-based Indigenous art wholesaler Native Northwest has filed a lawsuit against Sasquatch Gifts and Souvenirs and Bruce and Fiona Fearon for allegedly copying, using and selling t-shirts featuring a design strikingly close to the work of Coast Salish artist Francis Horne, Sr.
During a trip to Harrison last year, Horne was “mortified” to find a t-shirt design nearly identical to his own featuring Sasquatch, sold at the store without his permission.
“As soon as we stepped in the door, lo and behold, there’s my design,” Horne said in a video posted on social media by Native Northwest. “I couldn’t eat after that. It literally made me sick to my stomach. You think ‘Why would they steal this? Why would they steal my design?’”
Horne said the incident and subsequent lawsuit sends a message to all west coast Indigenous artists.
“We need to stand up for ourselves,” he added.
Horne is well-known for his carving skills, having created four poles for the town of Duncan. He creates jewelry and apparel primarily featuring traditional Northern style.
In a statement posted on social media, Native Northwest said they tried “everything” for more than six months to get copies of Horne’s design off the shelves. As of Wednesday, July 26, the company has not received “a meaningful” response from the Fearons or Sasquatch Gifts and Souvenirs.
“Theft of Indigenous art is wrong and we won’t back down until it is stopped,” Native Northwest stated. “The Fearons and Sasquatch Gifts & Souvenirs have been served by the Federal Court and we are awaiting response.”
In the days following Native Northwest’s announcement, Sasquatch Gifts and Souvenirs experienced a string of 12 one-star reviews on Google, bringing their rating down to 1.5 stars on the search engine. All the reviews posted within a single week condemned the store based on the art theft allegations.
The Observer has reached out to the current business owners for comment and received no response as of press time. While the store features a number of items featuring First Nations designs, the Sasquatch shirt in question did not appear to be available as of Monday.
The Sasquatch – or “sasq’ets” in Halq’emeylem – has been an important part of First Nations culture since time immemorial and subsequently found renewed meaning in Harrison Hot Springs. Harrison sits on the traditional territory of the Sts’ailes people, on the site of the ancient village of Qwó:íls.
According to Sts’ailes tradition, sasq’ets, or “hairy man,” is the caretaker of their land and can shift shape and move between the physical and spiritual realms.