The Newly Amended Indian Arts and Crafts Act to Help Reduce Fraudulant Art
By Kay Heitkamp, Two Rivers Tribune Contributing Writer
The Indian Arts and Crafts Act was recently amended in July. It applies to all members of federally recognized Tribes and will help reduce sale of arts and craftwork fraudulently labeled as Indian.
The newly amended Federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act states; “It is illegal to offer or display for sale, or sell, any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is American Indian produced, an American Indian product, or the product of a particular American Indian tribe.” According to the Act, if an item is made by a Native American artist or crafts person, it can be labeled as an Indian product. Indian labor is the key word in defining an authentic piece of artwork.
The amended law increases opportunities for Indian artists to promote and market their original and authentic arts and crafts while cracking down on artwork fraudulently labeled and marketed as Native American.
This is important because, as the popularity of Native American artwork has increased, the trend in recent years has been to sell products misrepresented as genuine Indian art. This has had a devastating effect on Tribal economies. It has been estimated that the sale of Native American arts and crafts tops one billion dollars a year nationwide. Fake artwork has both an economic and cultural impact on Tribal communities when items imported cheaply from other countries are falsely labeled as authentic Indian work and sold at a premium.
Tribes are justly proud of the reputations of their artists whose livelihoods often depend on selling what they painstakingly create in the tradition of their ancestors. Purchasing authentic Indian arts and crafts helps preserve and perpetuate Tribal culture and traditions. Indian artwork is a true grassroots art form. The man-hours involved in creating a single piece are incalculable.
For example, exquisite baskets begin with hand-gathering the fragile reeds, ferns and grasses used to weave intricate, traditional designs. The Yurok process of making deer sinew-backed bows includes hunting the deer, stripping its tendons, finding yew wood, forming and backing the bow with strips of sinew using glue made from the bladders of sturgeon.
Elegant necklaces are made from pine nuts that must be scrupulously cleaned, abalone shells gathered from the coast that must be cut and drilled under water because abalone dust is poisonous, and dentalium shells that also need to be scraped out, dried and sometimes dyed with berries or minerals before being used in jewelry. Indian silverwork created with turquoise, coral, mother of pearl or opals is world renown.
Fraudulent arts and crafts injure the artists as well as consumers who are uncertain if they can trust products labeled as Native American. For their own protection, Indian artists should label their work with their name, tribal affiliation, title or type of work, and materials used in each piece. The Indian Arts and Crafts Board recommends that all artists provide a written, signed and dated guarantee to buyers that their artwork is authentic.
Complaints should be filed with the Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB), a federal agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior. This agency is charged with enforcing the provisions of the newly amended Indian Arts and Crafts Act. Consumers and artists can file complaints about products falsely labeled as Native American on their website at www.doi.gov/iacb. Additionally, as stated on their website, the IACB provides promotional opportunities, general business advice and information on the Indian Arts and Crafts Act to Native American artists, craftspeople, businesses, museums, and cultural centers of federally recognized Tribes.
The Act provides for criminal and civil penalties against those who fraudulently market products as ‘Indian-made’ when, in fact, they are not. Previously, only the Federal Bureau of Investigation had the authority to investigate complaints. Violations of the Act can now be investigated by all federal law enforcement officers. Penalties now are harsher. First time offenders involved in significant fraudulent sales can be fined up to $250,000, a five-year prison term, or both. Businesses that market fake Indian goods can be fined up to one million dollars. The perpetrators of smaller sales can be fined up to $25,000, one year of prison, or both.