The salmon farming giant Marine Harvest plans to rebrand itself as Mowi starting on Jan. 1, but a local artisan says the new trademark is too close to his traditional Indigenous name, which he uses for his jewelry business.
Ernie Smith said in a media release that his family gave him the traditional name Mowisaht during a naming ceremony on March 16, 2002, following the death of his father. The name has been in his family for many generations, he said.
“Naming ceremonies are significant to our people, our names are tied to our family,” Smith said in the statement. “I feel proud of my heritage and never thought that I would have to take measures to protect my family name.”
He met with company officials to discuss the issue on Tuesday morning, but they haven’t yet arrived at a solution, Smith said.
“I was really happy that they contacted me yesterday to meet with them,” he said. “Hopefully, we come up with some sort of solution to mitigate the problem.”
The company’s Canadian subsidiary, which is based in Campbell River, said it respected Smith’s concerns and would continue to meet with him.
“Marine Harvest has met with Ernie Smith to hear his concerns which he expressed and we respect, and expect to discuss this with him further over the coming days,” said Jeremy Dunn, community relations and public affairs director for Marine Harvest Canada, in an email to the Mirror.
Smith, who runs the Awatin Aboriginal Art Gallery in downtown Campbell River, began making jewelry in 2015 and decided to use his traditional name to brand his designs. He said he doesn’t hold any formal copyright to the name.
“I didn’t think I’d ever have to save my native name for business,” he told the Mirror, adding that he signs his jewelry MOW.
The new Mowi brand now threatens to eclipse his company, Mowisaht Designs, he said.
Smith said he takes a neutral position on the controversial open-net pen aquaculture industry, but he accused Marine Harvest of cultural insensitivity.
“My name comes from my family and my name can’t change,” he said. “We are an authentic aboriginal art company… and (it’s) not appropriate to have the name associated with Marine Harvest’s resource-based company.”
Smith said he doesn’t think the company deliberately set out to culturally appropriate his heritage, but said “I do expect their organization to have some cultural sensitivity.”
He said traditional names are tracked by historians, families and witnesses at potlatch ceremonies. “Mowis” refers to a place in the territory of the Nuu-chah-nulth, while “-aht” refers to where a people come from, Smith said.
The Nuu-chah-nulth are Indigenous peoples whose traditional lands cover a large area of Vancouver Island’s Pacific coast and inland sections of the Island. Smith is originally from Ehattesaht First Nation, which is adjacent to Zeballos.
Marine Harvest opted to change the name of its worldwide operations during a special assembly of shareholders on Dec. 4 in Bergen, Norway, where the company is headquartered.
When the multinational seafood company announced its name change last week, it stated that AS Mowi was the company’s original name when it was founded in the 1960s.
The name change is meant to pay tribute to former CEO Thor Mowinckel, who is described by Marine Harvest as a “pioneer in salmon smolt production” and one of the company’s founders. Marine Harvest also said the name also refers to a type of salmon developed by the company, the Mowi breed.
The name change immediately generated backlash among relatives of Thor Mowinckel who oppose open-net pen aquaculture, with Frederik W. Mowinckel calling the industry unsustainable.
The company’s name change comes as it prepares to introduce a new line of Mowi-branded products. The company has said the Mowi brand will “communicate our integrated value-chain from feed to the consumer’s plate.”