Indian Arts and Craft Act of 1990

Indian Arts and Craft Act of 1990

The Indian Arts and Craft Act of 1990 also known as P.L. 101-644, a truth-in-advertising law, covers the marketing of Indian arts and crafts products in the United States and prohibits misrepresentation of those products.

The act makes it illegal to display for sale or sell any art or craft in a way that falsely suggests it was produced by an Indian, is a product of a particular Indian tribe, is the work of a particular Indian, or was produced by an Indian arts and craft organization, resident within the United States.

An individual can face civil or criminal penalties up to $250,000 fine or a 5-year prison term, or both. Businesses who violate the Act can face civil penalties or can be prosecuted and fined up to $1,000,000.

In the Act, an Indian is defined as a member of any federally or State recognized Indian Tribe, or an individual certified as an Indian artisan by an Indian tribe.

All Indian and Indian-style traditional and contemporary arts and crafts produced after 1935 are covered by the Act. Traditional items often copied by non-Indians include Indian-style pottery, baskets, jewelry, carved stone fetishes, woven rugs, dreamcatchers, kachina dolls, Native American style flutes and clothing.

All products must be marked truthfully regarding the tribal affiliation and Indian heritage of the producers, so the consumer is not misled.

It is illegal to market an art of craft using the name of a tribe if a member or certified Indian artisan of that tribe did not create the art or craft.

Selling an art or craft labeled as "Native American flute", for example, would be a violation of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act if the flute was produced by anyone other than a member, or certified artisan of an Indian tribe.

Labeling or describing an art of craft as "Navajo" or "Cherokee" is also illegal if that product is not made by a member of that tribe, or a certified artisan of that tribe.

Learn to recognize non-Indian arts and crafts. For example, if you see a flute listed for sale on the internet labeled "Native American Style" that means the person who made that flute is not Native American. Otherwise they would have labeled it "Native American flute".

If you learn that you have purchased an art or craft represented to you or advertised as Indian-made, and you find out it is not, first contact the dealer to request a refund. You can also contact your local Better Business Bureau, Chamber of Commerce and the local District Attorney's office if the dealer does not respond to your request for a refund.

You may also contact the Indian Arts and Crafst Board with a written complaint in regards to violations of the Act or call 1-800-ARTFAKE.

Check the event requirements on the authenticity of products being offered for sale at powwows, fairs, juried competitions and other events. Some events print programs and newspaper advertisements that list their requirements for selling Native American items.

You should obtain written certification from the individual vendors stating that their Indian arts or craftworks were produced by tribal member or by certified Indian artisans if the event organizers make no statements on compliance with the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.

Items sold as "Native American Style" or "Native Style" are not Native American made products. You might also ask to see a vendor's tribal card and Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood card to verify that they are Indian.

These are just a few guidelines to help ensure that you are buying genuine Native American arts and crafts.

Criminal penalties: 18 USC 1159

In order to prosecute a criminal violation of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person knowingly offered or displayed for sale, or sold, any good in a manner that falsely suggested it was Indian produced.

How does misrepresentation of Indian arts and crafts affect Indian culture and economics?

Making and selling Indian arts and crafts preserves the integrity of centuries of Indian culture, and ensures its survival for future generations. There is a premium added to the price of an art or craft because it is Indian made, in an industry that annually generates over a billion dollars in sales.

However, because consumers place a greater value on authentic Indian arts and crafts, and are willing to pay higher prices for authentic Indian products, it is a target for considerable fraud throughout the Indian arts and crafts marketplace and the including the internet.

As a result, highly significant volumes of non-Indian made items are manufactured and imported from overseas, as well as domestically produced, using cheap methods to convey Indian style cultural motifs, and sold as authentic Indian arts and crafts. The influx of these counterfeit products has pushed many Indian artists and artisans out of the business.

More and more authentic Indian artists and artisans can no longer afford to compete with the cheaper imports. Shop owners and galleries may be led to believe that counterfeit products are Indian made, and sell them as such. Unwittingly, they are perpetuating the fraud and ultimately violating the law.

Even more problematic, these items are increasingly appearing on reservations, and thereby undercutting jobs, livelihoods, tourist dollars, and cultural appreciation and respect that help sustain the reservations.

Indeed, the sale of counterfeit Indian arts and crafts has had a devastating effect on the economic livelihoods of Indian artists, artisans, on and off the reservations, and the overall Indian arts and crafts industry nationwide.

Furthermore, it is not unusual for this counterfeit activity to coexist with drug trafficking, money laundering, and other crimes directly and indirectly harming Indian country.

"Native arts and crafts are the only indigenous art of America. Inauthentic reproductions and mass produced knock-offs undercut sales of genuine articles, discouraging young Native Americans from learning traditional artisans' techniques and their decisions to pursue jobs in other industries. The end result is that if less Native people are practicing their arts, those traditions risk extinction. It would be a tremendous loss to the entire country's cultural heritage to lose their traditions." - Senator Jon Kyl (AZ) Congressional Record - S. 1375, July 11, 2005

Statistics show that Native youth face higher rates of school victimization and use of alcohol, drugs, and tobacco, than their counterparts, and drop out of school at higher rates than other students. In response to the deadly shootings on the Red Lake Reservation, and addressing other problems facing Native youth, on March 24, 1995, Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr., stated "The sad truth is, I believe these kinds of incidents are evidence of Natives losing their cultural and traditional ways that have sustained us as a people for centuries."

The Indian Arts and Craft Board is a branch of the United States Department of Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Are any further amendments to the Act anticipated?

S. 1375 amends the Act to authorize any federal law enforcement officer acting in coordination with a federal law enforcement agency to investigate offenses involving the sale of arts and crafts misrepresented as Indian products. The Bill was passed without amendment unanimously by the U.S. Senate and was referred to the House Committee on Resources and the House Committee on the Judiciary.


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