"In 1935, Congress enacted the first of several laws – the Indian Arts and Crafts Act
– aimed at putting an end to trafficking in non-genuine Indian arts and crafts. Exactly 70 years later, in 2005, the U.S. Interior Department’s inspector general estimated that nearly one-half of the $1 billion generated each year by the market for Indian arts and crafts comes from the sale of non-authentic goods – fakes. Most knowledgeable observers believe that the inspector general’s estimate is far too low.
Nearly three-quarters of a century after the federal government acted to protect a critical source of income for many Native artisans and their tribal communities, they still benefit from only a fraction of the income generated by that market. A large part of the fake goods in the U.S. market is produced overseas and then sold in the United States at prices that undercut what Native artisans need to charge for their work to make a viable living. Perhaps even more alarming than the economic impact, the huge number of fakes in the marketplace puts the cultural knowledge and value embodied in, and transmitted by, Native arts and crafts at risk. The consequences of this massive swindle are all too sadly familiar – livelihoods damaged, traditions compromised and tribal economies undermined.
The laws enacted specifically to deal with the problem of fakes – the Indian Arts and Crafts Act and its state counterparts – have been ineffective in stopping the problem. A major reason for the ineffectiveness of the current laws is that these are consumer protection/truth-in-advertising laws. As such, they focus on wrongdoing at the level of individual retail transactions. In a $1 billion-a-year market, this sporadic prosecution of individual retailers is little more than an exercise in futility. Clearly, there is a need to tackle the problem using other creative methods."
Get the Story:
Helen B. Padilla: Combating fake Indian Arts and Crafts: a proposal for action
(Indian Country Today 10/14)