Cowichan sweaters are to Canada what Aran fisherman knits are to Ireland and Norwegian sweaters are to Scandinavia – instantly recognizable for their patterns, as well as their high quality, durability and warmth. (Cowichan sweaters are iconic in another way, too – Jeff Bridges bundled himself up in a Cowichan-style sweater when he played The Dude in the cult movie hit “The Big Lebowski.”)
So when Canada’s Olympic teams went looking for matching sweaters, it makes sense that they’d look to the Cowichan sweaters produced by the West Coast Salish Nation, right?
Right – and also very, very wrong.
The Olympics did indeed let out a contract for sweaters with Cowichan patterns that will be worn by Olympic athletes and also sold to the public. But those sweaters won’t be made by the First Nations people who originally designed and still produce them.
To add insult to injury, the Ottawa Citizen reports here, the hand-knit sweaters that will be sold by The Bay chain of department stores that grew out of the old Hudson Bay Co. will be priced at $250 each, as opposed to the $215 the tribe charges.
In an attempt to land a bid for the tribe, Emily Sawyer-Smith, assistant manager of Hills Native Art in the Vancouver Island community of Duncan, knit sweaters for International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge and another for Premier Gordon Campbell, each bearing the five Olympic rings. The sweaters are hand-knit in a single piece. “I was disappointed,” Sawyer-Smith said simply.
Cowichan Valley lawmaker Bill Routley was more pointed.
“What’s ironic is here you have The Bay, who . . . more than a 100 years ago, they were trying to do business with First Nations all over British Columbia. And instead of doing business with First Nations, they’ve instead gone for some cheap imitation.”