Do the laws on counterfeit Native art go far enough? Ubiquitous fakes have far-reaching impacts on Indian Country.

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“This guy showed me a pendant he was wearing, he’d bought it in some flea market,” Ben Nighthorse Campbell recalled. “I looked at and said, ‘I don’t want to hurt your feelings but it’s not very well made: the stones aren’t set well and it’s not a quality piece of jewelry’.”

“It should be,” the stranger replied. “You made it!”

Sure enough, the piece had Campbell’s name on it, but he knew it wasn’t one of his. He never bothered to ask what the stranger had paid for the pendant.

Under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, it is illegal to market or sell fake Indian art as the real thing. However, since 1996 there have been more than 1,700 complaints of alleged violations resulting in a total of 22 prosecutions in New Mexico, Alaska, Utah, South Dakota and Missouri while another 400 complaints have yet to be reviewed. At present, only two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officers are dedicated to investigations that can range from locally produced bogus items to international forgery rings unloading knock-offs on naïve consumers.

According to New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall, counterfeit jewelry could make up as much as 80 percent of what is sold as “Indian made” in a market valued at approximately a billion dollars a year. To stop the surge of fake Indian art, the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs is taking another look at the IACA.

Created in 1935 as part of the Depression Era New Deal worker protections and later amended during both Bush presidencies with the help of Sen. Campbell, the act serves as a truth-in-advertising law. But eight decades of chronic underfunding and little-to-no enforcement have spurred many Native arts entrepreneurs to demand the federal government get real about enforcement. “It’s one thing to pass legislation with good intentions,” said Dallin Maybee Chief Operating Officer of Southwestern Association of Indian Arts. “But without appropriations for enforcement, that’s all it is.”

Read the article in HIGH COUNTRY NEWS