Three New Mexicans have been charged with violating a federal law that protects the artwork of traditional Native American artisans, authorities said.

Three New Mexicans Charged With Selling Fake Native American Jewelry; Indian Country Responds

Simon Moya-Smith

Three New Mexicans have been charged with violating a federal law that protects the artwork of traditional Native American artisans, authorities said Thursday.

“The indictment announced today and yesterday’s enforcement operation are not only about enforcing the law but also about protecting and preserving the cultural heritage of Native Americans,” U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez for the District of New Mexico said in a press release.

RELATED: Labor of Love: The Value of Earrings to Native Americans

Following a three-year investigation, federal authorities discovered that the three individuals had allegedly imported and sold Filipino-made jewelry and peddled them as authentic Native American-made work. The federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act [IACA] states that it is illegal to market and sell inauthentic Native American jewelry and items.

The indictments come after 16 search warrants were executed Wednesday by authorities in both New Mexico and California.

Haudenosaunee artist Skaruianewah Logan, who has been beading and making traditional cultural items for more than 10 years, told ICTMN that many indigenous pieces have a purpose and story, and that inauthentic work is a perversion of the culture.

“A lot of pieces have stories to them. It means something special,” she said. “Maybe [the artist] dreamt about it. So when people see that they’re captivated by it. Once you try to take it and pervert it for something else it loses its specialness. It just makes me sad that our traditions have been diluted down to something to turn a profit.”

Artist Mariah Gladstone, who is Blackfeet and Cherokee, told ICTMN that authentic Native American cultural items are rare because of the genocide that was committed against them.

"There are so many incredible Native artists that make products for sale and their business is being undercut by these characters; it's gross," she wrote in an message. "The reason Native American made goods are inherently valuable is because of their rarity. There was a genocide against Natives and it makes our art more valuable."

Gladstone said Native American artwork "cannot be replicated because it requires replicating the entire indigenous experience" since there is so much of the culture in the work itself.

If convicted, the three indicted individuals face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
I'm ashamed to know that these people are from my home state. Still, it's something that happens all too often. Sadly it most often happens when someone claims tribal membership in order to make their art more appealing to tourists. As an airbrush artist, I struggled for years to make a living with my art, but never once did it occur to me to illicitly claim tribal membership for profit. I love and respect my full/half blooded cousins enough to NOT muscle in on their hard-earned rights.

Flower's picture
Submitted by Flower on
It's about time and more needs to be done. More credence and support needs to be given to Native artisans who make real authentic jewelry from AZ and NM from which the works originate and travel worldwide. It makes me mad to see tv shopping networks selling "Southwest" jewelry of which they are careful not to state it is "Native American" made because it is NOT... yet they give the public a false impression because the jewelry is replicated to look like the authentic Native American made sterling silver bracelets, pendants, earrings and heishi necklaces. This is theft just the same and falsely marketed to the public as "Southwest" jewelry.. I've seen fake versions sold by Non-Native businesses in many states, airports and it makes me sick when I know they are just fake copies of original NA work.

bullbear's picture
Submitted by bullbear on
"If convicted" would seem to have validity as there are countless reports that remain on file with identified individuals who were caught red-handed selling funerary objects and religious items that belong to tribal nations. These items are protected under Native American Graves Protection Act and delineates punishable fines and jail terms, just as the Indian Arts and Crafts Act does so. Here is some of the saddest part of it all, Indian artisans or those who claim to be tribally enrolled members, sell non-Indian, manufactured jewelry at pow-wows and Indian markets. What!! Now, how can we, as tribal nations, expect big brother to enforce a law if we cannot police our own? Let's hope that the more these reports crop up, the more oil will be put on these squeaky wheels.