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Indianz.Com Video: ‘Phony tribes’: Cherokee Nation takes on fraudulent groups
Tribal leaders urge Congress to protect Native artists from ‘fake tribes’
Chief of Cherokee Nation leads charge against ‘phony tribes’
Monday, April 17, 2023

Efforts to strengthen the Indian Arts and Crafts Act (IACA) are drawing widespread attention as tribes seek a major — and controversial — change to a federal law designed to protect Native artists from frauds.

On Friday, five of the largest Indian Nations in Oklahoma adopted a resolution that calls on the U.S. Congress to restrict the IACA to citizens of federally recognized tribes, meaning those with a government-to-government relationship with the United States. Currently, the law applies to artists from federally and state recognized tribes, allowing them to market and sell their goods as “Indian” made.

But Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. of the Cherokee Nation is leading the charge against those he refers to as “fake tribes.” He said many of these groups falsely claim to be Cherokee — thus allowing them to market their goods as “Indian” solely based on their status as a state recognized entity.

“This is an offense to our ancestors, an offense to our artists and confusing to art patrons,” Hoskin said in an opinion published on Indianz.Com. “As Chief, I will not tolerate it. So, let’s do something about it. Let’s tell Congress that our ancestors endured too much to allow fake tribes to undermine our culture and lifeways.”

Chuck Hoskin: Cherokee Nation works to protect our artists

Joining the Cherokee Nation in the effort to amend the IACA are the Chickasaw Nation, the Choctaw Nation, the Muscogee Nation and the Seminole Nation. As the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes, the five sovereign governments account for the vast majority of the Indian population in the state of Oklahoma.

The state has already been a battleground to protect the works of artists from the 39 federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma, where their ancestors were violently forced to move by the U.S. throughout the 1800s. In 2016, the Oklahoma Legislature enacted a law that required “Indian” art sold in the state to have been produced by a federally recognized tribal citizen.

But a conservative legal group that has fought against tribal water rights, sacred sites, tribal sovereignty and even the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) went to federal court and got the state law invalidated on behalf of an artist from a state recognized group in Virginia. The 2019 ruling centered on the “conflict” between the Oklahoma law and the IACA, a federal law.

Incidentally, the same artist, who is based in California, challenged another Indian arts law in Missouri with the help of the Pacific Legal Foundation, whose website boasts of a high win rate at the U.S. Supreme Court, where tribes are almost always dealt losses to their rights. The group more recently submitted a brief in Haaland v. Brackeen, the closely-watched case that could lead to ICWA being invalidated for good, depriving federally recognized tribes of the ability to protect their children.

When it comes to protecting artists, Congress could resolve the “conflict” that arose in the Oklahoma case by restricting the IACA to citizens of federally recognized tribes. Some state recognized groups are pushing back on the proposal — along with the notion that they are “fake” — as the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs weighs an update to the law.

“We are no less Native than any of the Federal Tribes in the United States,” five groups claiming to be “Cherokee” and “Creek” from Alabama wrote in an April 17 letter to the committee. “Our crafts and art are a very important part of who we are. It is ridiculous to assume that there are no other (genuine) American Indians other than the Federal Recognized Tribes. We are not stealing culture this is our Culture.”

“We ARE GENUINE Indian Artist,” the letter continues. Chief Hoskin labeled the groups as an “alliance of phony tribes” in a post on social media.

Another group called the 7 Directions of Service is also lobbying against the proposal to limit the IACA to federally recognized tribal artists. The non-profit, which is based in North Carolina, is circulating a letter which it says will be submitted to the Senate committee and to the Department of the Interior, the federal agency that includes the Indian Arts and Crafts Board.

“If they remove state tribes from the Congressional Act language, it will be devastating for state-recognized tribal citizens all over the United States,” the online form states.

7 Directions of Service was founded by Crystal Cavalier-Keck and her husband, Jason “Crazy Bear” Keck. Crystal Cavalier-Keck, who previously ran for Congress as a Democrat and has been active in Democratic politics, is part of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, a group that secured state recognition against the recommendations of the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs.

7 Directions of Service did not respond to an inquiry placed via email and through an online form about Jason Keck’s supposed tribal affiliations. In the past, he has claimed to be “Choctaw” and “Apache” from Louisiana but has not been specific about the nature of his belonging to any tribal nations. He also has gone by the name Jason Campos-Keck, with the Keck name coming from his late father James G. Keck.

Amid the jostling, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on Friday extended the deadline for comments about potential updates to the IACA. The deadline is now May 19 for what is being called the Amendments to Respect Traditional Indigenous Skill and Talent (ARTIST) Act of 2023.

“The ARTIST Act would update the Indian Arts and Crafts Act to support creative economies and strengthen enforcement of current law and protections against counterfeit competition for Native artists and their works,” the Democratic-led committee said in a news release. “Comments will be used to further inform the legislative process and serve as a resource for future discussions on updating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.”

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), the chair of the committee, announced the ARTIST Act as a discussion draft bill on March 14. One of the notable changes [PDF] is the inclusion of Native Hawaiian artists in IACA.

As enacted in 1990, the Indian Arts and Crafts Act makes it a crime to market, sell or promote an item as “Indian” unless it was created by a citizen of a state or federally recognized tribe or by an artisan certified by a tribe. The law was written to prevent the historical and ongoing misrepresentation of Native arts by non-Native entities.

Native artists and their advocates, however, have long complained about a lack of enforcement — all while fake and fraudulent goods have continued to flood the market. The law was updated in 2000 and in 2010 to address some of the concerns and the ARTIST Act, should it eventually be introduced, could lead to more protections for American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian artisans.

In addition to extending the deadline for comments, Schatz’s committee announced a listening session for the ARTIST Act on April 26. Details have not yet been made public about the upcoming session, which is set to take place virtually.

The Cherokee Nation, meanwhile, is urging its citizens to contact Schatz to limit the IACA to artists from federally recognized tribes. A template letter says such an amendment would protect Cherokee people from “fraudulent and fake artists who illegitimately claim our tribal history and culture.”

More than 200 groups across the nation claim to be “Cherokee,” according to a 2007 report from The Cherokee Phoenix. One group that sought federal recognition was even based in Oregon — thousands and thousands of miles from the present-day headquarters of the Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina. The latter three are the only federally recognized Cherokee tribes.

“The Indian Arts and Crafts Act actually recognizes state tribes,” Chief Hoskin told a meeting of the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes on Friday. “It puts tribes like the ‘Four Winds Cherokees of Louisiana‘ on par with the Cherokee Nation.”

“The ‘Four Winds Cherokees of Louisiana’ is phony as a $3 bill folks,” Hoskin said of the group. “It’s fake.”

“But federal law recognizes that fake tribe — and hundreds of other fake tribes — as real tribes. And they’re not real tribes. We need to change that,” he said..

Cherokee Nation: It’s Time for Congress to Strengthen the Indian Arts and Crafts Act

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