There are many levels of authenticity in Northwest Coast art. Is an object to be considered Northwest Coast Native art simply because it looks like it? These images go back thousands of years. In pre-contact times only certain native people were allowed to carve and they could only produce the images that their benefactor owned. The stories, dances and masks were past on through families or changed hands because of war or debts. To this day there are families of what we call hereditary carvers. These artists produce objects that are used ceremonially in potlatches. Objects that have been used in ceremonies are considered the most authentic.
Today there are many young carvers that are Northwest Coast natives but do not have a direct connection to the old-timers. They have learned the art form from teachers and by studying the old pieces. Most have apprenticed under established carvers for a number of years. Many have learned the cultural side of the art form and take part in ceremonial activities. The pieces that they create are considered authentic Northwest Coast Native Art, but are not considered artifacts. Their approach can be starkly traditional or contemporary. The availability of different materials, like glass and bronze have widened the palate of the modern Northwest Coast artist but the roots are still the same.
I am a Victoria BC born artist of Cree descent that loves this art form. Although I have not been formerly adopted by the Northwest Coast Native Peoples I have been trained primarily by my father Gene Brabant who was offered his first apprentice-ship when he was 15 years old by Tony Hunt Sr.-Art of The Raven Gallery which he accepted when he was 23. He was carving with John Livingston and in the Hunt studio between 1971-1980. I have grown up in his cedar chips, had the privilege to study and work many years under and alongside some of the best Native Artists from the North West Coast, and been included in helping carve and produce ceremonial pieces and poles, BUT I would never consider my own work authentic Northwest Coast Native Art. I have a deep reverence and respect for the origins of this style, design, and the peoples it has come from, as well as each and everyone who has influenced me today and tomorrow~ and that energy is in every piece I carve and produce.