Tribe works to protect art
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OCTOBER 10, 2000

The Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho is taking enforcement of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act into its own hands.

The tribe has created a label its artists can use to ensure the authenticity of their work. It will be available only to enrolled members and will send a signal to buyers that the art they are buying is not a fake or a fraud.

Forgery in the Indian art market is common, according to artists and experts within the industry. The Indian Arts and Crafts Board, an agency of the Department of Interior, estimates that 40 to 50 percent of the art on the market today are actually fakes.

In a $1.2 billion a year business, the presence of frauds can be damaging to artists. And many say the government isn't enforcing the law.

The act, first passed in 1935 and enhanced in 1990, is designed to ensure that art marketed as tribally-made has been made by a member of a federally recognized or state recognized tribe or has been created by a tribe's own certified artists.

By creating its new label, the Nez Perce joins other tribes, like the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin, who have taken the protection of artists upon themselves. Currently, tribes but not the artists themselves, can sue for violations of the law.

But a new bill co-sponsored by Senators Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo) and Senator Pete Domenici (R-N.Mex) hopes to correct that by enabling individual artists to fight frauds. Last week, the Senate unanimously passed the Indian Arts and Crafts Enforcement Act of 2000.

"[T]oo often. . . products are phony, slipped onto the market and sold as the real thing," said Domenici. "This is simply unfair for the unsuspecting customers, and the Indian artisans who rely on the sale of their work to make their livelihood."

The Nez Perce tag features the symbol of a Nez Perce man and woman. Each tribal artist can receive up to 100 of them per year, with the artist picking up the printing costs if he or she needs more.

The tag was designed by Brooklyn Baptiste, a tribal member. It will be available as soon as the tribe can obtain a copyright for the label.

Relevant Links:
The Nez Perce Tribe -
The Indian Arts and Crafts Board -

Related Stories:
Fake arts still an issue (Tribal Law 08/17)
Indian Market nears (Arts and Entertainment 08/14)
Fighting forgeries in Indian Country (Tribal Law 05/18)