Indianz.Com > News > Indian Arts and Crafts Board welcomes new member with law enforcement background
Santa Fe Indian Market
The Santa Fe Indian Market attracts tens of thousands of visitors to Santa Fe, New Mexico, during the third weekend of August. The event celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2022 and its 101st in 2023. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Indian Arts and Crafts Board welcomes new member with law enforcement background
Addition of Commissioner Walt Lamar comes amid renewed enforcement efforts
Wednesday, August 30, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB), the federal agency charged with protecting and promoting authentic Native art, is welcoming a new member.

Walt Lamar is a citizen of the Blackfeet Nation and a descendant of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes. As the newest commissioner on the IACB, he brings a wealth of experience in Indian Country law enforcement to the Indian arts world.

“His storied law enforcement career, included 19 years with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, where he served as a Special Agent/Supervisory Special Agent until 2000. Upon his departure from the FBI, he was appointed U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Deputy Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Law Enforcement Services,” the IACB said in news release on Wednesday.

“In 2001, Mr. Lamar was appointed DOI Senior Advisor to the Director-Office of Law Enforcement and Security to ensure protection of the Nation’s dams, monuments, and icons,” the release continued.

Lamar’s law enforcement credentials contribute to IACB’s mission. The federal agency assists with enforcement of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, which makes it a crime to sell products as “Indian” unless they are made by an Indian artist or tribally-certified artisan.

The law, the modern version of which was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1990, defines an Indian artist as a citizen of a federally- or state-recognized tribe and an artisan as someone certified by a tribal government. Enforcement has stepped up in recent years as federal authorities investigated and prosecuted individuals who have fraudulently represented themselves as “Indian” when in fact they are not.

“When individuals and businesses market art misrepresented as Indian made, they undercut Indian artists and Indian economies, and prey upon unwitting consumers,” IACB Director Meridith Stanton said in a news release in May, as yet another individual was sentenced for violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.

“For those selling counterfeit Indian art and craftwork, wherever you are we will diligently work to find you and prosecute you under the act,” said Stanton, who is a citizen of the Delaware Nation.

U.S. Department of the Interior Video: Secretary Deb Haaland on supporting Indian artists and the Indian Arts and Crafts Act

With Secretary Deb Halaand being the first Native person to lead the Department of the Interior (DOI), the Biden administration has been taking steps to improve enforcement of the law. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is part of DOI, just wrapped up a series of tribal consultations and listening sessions to discuss new regulations for Indian arts and crafts.

The final gathering took place almost two weeks ago in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The meeting coincided with the start of the busy Santa Fe Indian Market, where more than 1,000 American Indian and Alaska Native artists showcase their works to a large national and international audience.

However, one Native advocate and one Native artist who went to the listening session were unable to offer comments on improving enforcement of the law. Both said the federal employees in charge told them the meeting was already over, even though it had been scheduled to run for three hours on the afternoon of Friday, August 18.

The two individuals told Indianz.Com that it was difficult for Native artists to make it to the session, since most were finalizing their works for the popular market, which hosted its own events at the same time on Friday afternoon. The public school year also started that same week, adding to the hectic nature of peoples’ schedules.

Santa Fe Indian Market: Empower and Promote Indigenous Arts

Just two weeks prior, the organization behind the the Santa Fe Indian Market warned Native artists about the updated regulations. The Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, a non-profit that began the event over 100 years ago, said that potential changes could end up hurting the artisans the law is supposed to protect.

“The proposed expansion of the definition of Indian Art & Indian products has the potential to bring about consequences for your small Native-owned businesses,” SWAIA said in an August 1 message to artists.

An analysis of the proposed regulations that SWAIA provided argues that the expansion of “non-Indian labor” will harm Indian artists by “flooding the market” with items that aren’t produced by Native people.

“This is exactly contrary to the language and intent of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act and could severely undermine current enforcement of the Act,” the SWAIA document states.

Additionally, SWAIA said the proposal will “twist” the definition of Indian arts and crafts to include products that have not historically been protected by the law. Again, the organization said the changes would harm Native artisans.

“For example, these non-arts and crafts products would include beer, wine, agricultural and food products such as hot dogs, prepared food delivery services, restaurants, and TV shows,” the SWAIA analysis reads. “Thus, traditional and contemporary Indian art and craftwork as we know it would be equated with hot dogs and beef jerky, as al being Indian art and crafts products.”

SWAIA encouraged artists to submit comments to the BIA by the end of the day on Friday, which is when the comment period closes. Submissions can be emailed to, according to a Dear Tribal Leader letter that went out on April 3.

Separate from the regulations, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs is considering amendments to the law. The Amendments to Respect Traditional Indigenous Skill and Talent Act of 2023, also known as the ARTIST Act, would make significant changes to address fraud and exploitation of Native artists.

The committee hosted a well-attended listening session in April. Almost every speaker called for increased and expanded enforcement of the law in order to prevent the types of fraudulent activities that have led to federal investigations and prosecutions.

“There should be a means wherein tribes could alert the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, who could then contact studios, production companies, and other media outlets — and even take legal action against these individuals,” said Cedar Sherbert, a citizen of the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, one of the Kumeyaay tribes whose homelands span southern California in the United States and Baja California in Mexico.

Sherbert, who has worked in film for decades, argued for the inclusion of performing arts and literature in the law. Other speakers who come from federally-recognized tribes agreed with an expansion to include a broader ranger of works created by Native people.

Indianz.Com Video: ‘Phony tribes’: Cherokee Nation takes on fraudulent groups

Additionally, Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. of the Cherokee Nation called for a major change in the law. He said people who belong to state-recognized groups — which he has referred to as “phony” — should not be protected by the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.

“This is a problem that is ongoing,” Hoskin said during the listening session, which took place virtually. “Often these organizations will sell membership into their organizations. It’s something that needs examination by this committee.”

“It needs correction. Indian Country is not going to tolerate this,” Hoskin added.

The committee, which is chaired by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), also heard from several representatives of state-recognized groups who opposed any efforts to remove them from existing law. Almost all of the speakers were based in North Carolina — which happens to be the state where one of the Republican staffer’s tribe is based. The GOP staffer participated in the listening session on April 26.

“It’s hard for us state recognized tribes here in North Carolina to get federal recognized due to the fact many of our courts were burned down — and a lot of the records,” said Patrick Suarez, who identified himself as being from the Meherrin Tribe, a state group. “However, our people are the same. We have strong connections, genealogy, DNA testing to the federal recognized tribes.”

Schatz has not indicated whether he will formally introduce the ARTIST Act in the U.S. Senate, or whether the draft version that the committee has released will be updated to address concerns raised by leaders and citizens of federally-recognized tribes.

“The United States Constitution states that the only power over Native Americans is with Congress, the United States Congress,” said Keeley Denning, who is Cherokee and Delaware. “So why are states being allowed to recognize these groups who are not Native and cannot produce evidence of being such?”

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board, which was created by Congress in 1935, consists of five commissioners. In addition to Lamar, the members are Joyce Begay-Foss (Navajo), Marcus Monenerkit​, Jamie Okuma (Luiseno / Shoshone-Bannock / Wailaki) and Jordan Ann Craig (Northern Cheyenne).

Begay-Foss serves as chair while Monenerkit serves as vice chair. All are appointed to the board by the Secretary of the Interior. The commissioners are not paid for their work on the federal entity.

“The IACB looks forward to working with Commissioner Lamar, along with Chairperson Joyce Begay Foss (Diné), Vice Chairperson Marcus Monenerkit, Commissioner Jamie Okuma (La Jolla Band of Indians), and Commissioner Jordan Craig (Northern Cheyenne) to promote and protect authentic American Indian and Alaska Native artists and their creative work,” the news release stated.

Lamar retired from federal service in 2005, according to the release. His spouse is Cynthia Chavez Lamar, a citizen of the Pueblo of San Felipe who is the first Native woman to serve as permanent director of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

Cynthia Chavez Lamar and Walt Lamar
Cynthia Chavez Lamar, left, and Walt Lamar pose for a photo in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in August 2022. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

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