Bob Katter has taken French fashion label Chanel to task for appropriating Aboriginal culture with its sale of an almost $2000 boomerang, and renewed his calls for the Australian Government to better protect Indigenous artists.
Chanel’s black “wood and resin” boomerang — priced at $1,930 — has been the subject of heavy condemnation on social media.
Mr Katter, who is the federal member for Kennedy, said it was unacceptable the item was “being sold as a highly valuable item when it remains to be seen whether there’s any Indigenous qualities to the [Chanel] boomerang whatsoever”.
Indigenous artefact maker and community leader Dean Kelly told Radio National’s Drive program Chanel’s boomerang was a theft of Aboriginal identity.
“It’s been happening for a long time and no-one seems to be listening to Aboriginal people that this stuff is important to us and it belongs here in this country,” he said.
Mr Katter said Chanel’s boomerang was representative of a wider problem in Australia.
Boomerangs are a popular souvenir for tourists but cheap, imported imitations of them — and other important Aboriginal objects — are increasingly pushing local creators out of the market.
“I don’t think anyone should be allowed to make money out of a cultural heritage that belongs to we Australians and, specifically, the First Australians,” Mr Katter said.
“There are estimates that range from $3 million up to $20 million being lost each year.”
Imported imitations of Indigenous art are pushing local creators out of the market. (ABC News: Karen Michelmore)
Mr Kelly said there was a spiritual process to making Aboriginal artefacts which non-Indigenous people should not profit from.
“Our people didn’t have money — they had different systems of how we valued things and money certainly wasn’t part of it,” he said.
“It’s not just something we put in a fancy packet and sell for the fun of it. It’s part of who we are as a people.”
‘No money whatsoever’ going to Indigenous artists
Mr Katter said a member of his team had recently visited souvenir shops in Cairns and found “something like 80 to 95 per cent of the items there that claimed to be Indigenous were, in fact, imported and mass-produced”.
Of those items, he said, there was “[no] money whatsoever going back, except for one case, to the Australian Indigenous people”.
Earlier this year, campaigners for Indigenous Art Code, a group working to preserve and promote ethical trading in Indigenous art, estimated 80 per cent of shops visited by their team were selling unauthentic souvenirs.
Mr Kelly said proper protections needed to be put in place to protect the heritage of Aboriginal art, and its creators.
“Somewhere down the track in the near future we have to put some solid frameworks and structures in place around legislation that protects heritage, Aboriginal identity and all the things our old people have been talking about for many years,” he said.
Government needs to act on legislation, Katter says
Mr Katter introduced legislation in February to make it illegal to sell fake foreign imports of Indigenous Australian art.
Under Australia’s current laws, “Aboriginal style” imports are allowed to be sold on the condition they do not claim to be authentic and have a label stating where they are made.
He said it was time for the Federal Government to act on the bill, which has been seconded by Nick Xenophon Team MP Rebekha Sharkie.
“If you sell an item that purports to be … a manifestation of Australian Indigenous culture and you are not Indigenous or been licensed by an Indigenous group, then you are committing an illegal act and you will be punished, you will be fined,” he said of the bill.
Mr Katter said his team would contact Chanel and seek to have the item removed from sale.
“We understand they’re a pretty reputable, internationally renowned firm and we expect them to act with responsibility here,” he said.
Chanel has released a statement saying the brand was “extremely committed to respecting all cultures and regrets that some may have felt offended”.
The item remains available on its website.