The City of Vernon, B.C., has given up the copyright of a fictional creature’s name and transferred it to the Syilx First Nation, following criticism of cultural appropriation from Indigenous communities.

Last Monday, city council passed a motion by a 4-3 vote to relinquish the right of assigning who can use the name of mythical lake serpent Ogopogo. The copyright was given to the city in July 1956 from previous copyright holder A.G Seabrook.

The name Ogopogo is a gibberish word derived from the Syilx language word n ̓x̌ax̌aitkʷ — pronounced n-ha-ha-it-koo — meaning “something in the water,” according to Byron Louis, the chief of the Okanagan Indian Band, which represents seven communities within the Syilx Nation.

Louis says the mythical animal is believed to inhabit Okanagan Lake. 

He says Indigenous communities had a flurry of conversations earlier this month questioning why Vernon city council gave permission to a local author to use the Ogopogo name in his new book.

Louis says the Ogopogo’s name and story carry religious meaning to the Syilx First Nation.

“[For] someone else to actually say that ‘I can actually own that [Ogopogo name] through my laws,’ that is cultural appropriation,” Louis said Monday to Dominika Lirette, the guest host of CBC’s Daybreak South.

Mayor Victor Cumming declined CBC’s request for comment, saying he cannot disclose any information about the vote that was done in a closed-door council meeting. 

In a written statement to CBC News, Coun. Akbal Mund — who voted in favour of transferring the Ogopogo copyright to the Syilx First Nation — said the City of Vernon has never gained any monetary benefits from the copyright.

Louis says he commends the city’s decision to give the copyright to the Syilx Nation, and he will work with elders and knowledge holders on how to appropriately use the intellectual property.

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