Three quarters of shops selling what appears to be First Nations artwork or products may actually be selling knock-offs, according to an investigation by a local news outlet.

Journalists from The Discourse catalogued 260 pieces of art they picked up at souvenir shops, art shops and galleries in Vancouver to find a surprising number of them couldn’t be traced back to any First Nations people.

“We found knock-off totem poles, dreamcatchers, Inukshuks,” said Francesca Fionda, who was on the team that examined the stores.

“Fake art is taking profits away from artists who are trying to make authentic art,” she said.

The result: tourist dollars end up with the “inauthentic” works, leaving the real First Nations artists high and dry, said Pam Baker, whose West Vancouver firm Copperknot Jewelry makes and sells art in the city.

On top of that, symbols that are unique to First Nations culture have their meaning twisted or lost, she said.

“That’s where you feel violated, when it’s been reproduced all the time and nobody really knows the meaning,” she said. "People purchase it here for $20, take it home and they don't know the real meaning behind it." 

The Discourse looked at 40 souvenir stores, art shops and galleries. In their samples, they found 25 per cent of stores were selling “authentic” art, which could be sourced to a First Nations artist or involved a First Nations person.

In 12.5 per cent of stores, none of the items sampled could be connected to any First Nations artist.

And 62.5 per cent of stores were selling both.

“In most of the stores, they sold both inauthentic and authentic items. They were side-by-side on shelves. It’s hard for the consumer to figure out what’s real and what’s not,” Fionda said.

In the United States, a federal law prohibits falsely suggesting that any merchandise is produced by First Nations artists when it isn’t.

Baker said she gets disheartened when she sees her product next to something she knows isn’t genuine.

“A lot of the artists get upset about what’s happening in the industry,” she said.

Baker said she hopes everyone else gets upset enough that something will change.