Is Vernon's copyright of Ogopogo cultural appropriation? | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Is Vernon's copyright of Ogopogo cultural appropriation?

FILE PHOTO - Ogopogo basks in the sunshine and warm weather along the Kelowna waterfront, March 15, 2016.
March 19, 2021 - 8:00 AM

Is the City of Vernon's ownership of the copyright to Ogopogo another case of cultural appropriation, and should the City relinquish its ownership of the copyright and hand it over to local First Nations?

It's unknown what will happen, but just over a week after Vernon council voted unanimously to grant author Don Levers permission to use the name Ogopogo in his upcoming book, it appears the City has at least thought about this question.

Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming told he'd be able to address the question following council's March 22 meeting. The mayor gave no indication of why the copyright issue would be addressed at the meeting.

And the mayor wasn't the only one refusing to comment on the question of cultural appropriation.

Levers said in an email that he wasn't prepared to get into a discussion regarding cultural appropriation at this time.

The question of cultural appropriation can be complicated, but Westbank First Nation member Coralee Miller didn't shy away from the topic.

"One thing we need to get really clear is that today's iteration of Ogopogo... is not our water spirit, that thing has been so appropriated and far removed that it's not ours," Miller said. "But where we take issue though is that it removes what our water spirit actually is to us."

For thousands of years, the Syilx people called it N’ha-a-itk. Miller said the water spirit likes sage and tobacco and loves to be sung to and it carries a deep spiritual meaning.

"Its true form that you can actually see and touch is the water itself, it is a sacred spirit of the lake," she said. "What that represents to us (is) that all of our blessings come from the water."

Miller said early European missionaries saw the lake spirit and demonized it changing the spirit of the water into a monster.

Then in the 1920s, English folk singers Cumberland Clark and Mark Strong wrote a song called Ogo-pogo.

In 1952, radio pioneer Gil Seabrook copyrighted the name Ogopogo. A newspaper story from 1953 with the headline "Battle done over Ogopogo," says the move infuriated the City of Kelowna as it was concerned it wouldn't be able to use the name to promote its annual regatta. The story clarifies the copyright only refers to "literary and artistic work."

For reasons unexplained, the copyright was given to Vernon in 1956 who still hold it. The City confirmed it hadn't collected any royalties from the ownership.

With permission from Vernon, Levers published his first book "Ogopogo: The Misunderstood Sea Monster" in 1985 and reportedly sold more than 25,000 copies.

Levers said his second book is scheduled for 2022 and his publisher, the Okanagan Publishing House, works closely with the Okanagan Nation Alliance in the development of new material and all books carry a territory acknowledgement.

While Levers doesn't want to talk about cultural appropriation, he's not the only one.

The Okanagan Indian Band, Westbank First Nation and the Okanagan Nation Alliance didn't respond to our request for comment.

In 2016, the Okanagan Indian Band was very vocal in its criticism that a non-Indigenous author Dorothy Hawes had appropriated Okanagan stories for her book children’s book "Ogopogo Odyssey." At the time Hawes said she was "shocked" by their reaction saying she'd spoken to them prior to publication.

Miller reiterates she’s not speaking on behalf of her First Nation but wants people to understand N’ha-a-itk.

"What we're trying to do by spreading the awareness, it's OK to have Ogopogo, you guys have made that up, you guys enjoy that, use it for all of your mascots and commercial marketing, but there needs to be an understanding that our water spirit and this thing are two separate entities," she said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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