Theft in the world of Indian Art

Theft in the world of Indian Art
(MN File Photo) The Indian Arts and Crafts board member discusses fraudulent arts and crafts during an interview with Mvskoke Radio.

Liz Gray/Reporter

IACB program specialist discusses fraudulent arts and crafts

OKMULGEE, Oklahoma — This year the largest Native American art fraud case, which has accused multiple businesses manufacturing imported or falsely distributed Native American style jewelry as genuine has made an appearance in the court system.

Two businesses and five men are being charged with violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act for importation by false or fraudulent practice and failure to mark goods with their country of origin required by customs law.

The accused obtained a trade value of an estimated $12 million between 2010 through 2015.

Fraudulent Native American made artwork is nothing new in Indian Country.

The U.S. Department of Interior has worked to protect Native people’s artwork integrity since the introduction of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1935.

In an interview with Mvskoke Radio, IACB Program Specialist Ken Van Way could not discuss the ongoing case in the southwestern region of the United States but did speak of past cases all over the country, most recently in Alabama involving Mvskoke shell carvings.

Van Way said the cause of these crimes are motivated by money, valuing the Native art industry at an estimated billion dollars.

“A lot of the crime is focused on where the money is or where the money is perceived to be,” he said.

The IACB, a DOI agency, was created by Congress to promote the economic development of federally recognized American Indians and Alaska Natives through the expansion of the Indian arts and crafts market with its top priority to implement and enforce the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990.

The Act calls for truth in advertising by prohibiting misrepresentation in the marketing of Indian arts and craft products, making it illegal to offer, display for sale or sell any art or craft product falsely suggesting it is Indian produced.

“We believe that the Indian arts and crafts industry is very important to communities and to individuals,” Van Way said. “Certainly the imported pieces or misrepresented pieces in the United States whether domestically or foreign produced do undercut the livelihood of artists and communities.”

He said the IACB does not have arresting authority over the people committing crimes related to their agency but they do work very closely with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

According to the IACB website, buyers should be cautious before purchasing at powwows, annual fairs and other events.

“Check the event requirements on the authenticity of products being offered for sale. Many events list the requirements in newspaper advertisements, promotional flyers, and printed programs. If the event organizers make no statements on compliance with the Act or on the authenticity of Indian arts and crafts offered by participating vendors, you should obtain written certification from the individual vendors that their Indian arts or craftwork were produced by tribal members or by certified Indian artisans.”

Van Way said anyone with concerns could contact the IACB through their toll free number at: 888-artfake or 888-278-3253.

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