New arts act clears Congress
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OCTOBER 25, 2000

Better protection of consumers, and more importantly, of Indian artists, is the promise of a bill that awaits President Bill Clinton's signature.

The House passed the Indian Arts and Crafts Enforcement Act of 2000 by a voice vote on Monday. The Senate passed the bill earlier this month, where it was introduced by Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo) and co-sponsored by Senators Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.).

The Indian arts market is a lucrative $1 billion a year market. However, it is estimated that as much as 40 to 50 percent of goods marketed as "Indian-made" are, in fact, forgeries.

The Indian Arts and Crafts Act, first passed in 1935 and strengthened in 1990, is supposed to prevent such misrepresentation. But Indian artists and tribal leaders told lawmakers in May that the law is not being enforced, causing artisans to lose money.

At Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico, about eighty-five percent of the tribe rely on arts and crafts to make a living, said Tony Eriacho, Jr., a member of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, the agency responsible for the enforcement of the act. He and others said artists are feeling the effects of fake goods on the market and often can't do anything about it.

The bill hopes to change that by putting power into the hands of the artists themselves. It amends the Indian Arts and Crafts Act to allow for individual artists and Indian arts organizations to sue for violations of the law, not just tribes or the Attorney General.

Violations of the law are stiff, if prosecutions are successful. Offenders can be fined $250,000 and five years in prison for the first offense, $1 million and 15 years for the second and businesses can be fined as much as $5 million.

Still, no one has been prosecuted successfully by any federal agency for violations of the act.

Get the Bill:
A bill to improve the cause of action for misrepresentation of Indian arts and crafts (S.2872)

Related Stories:
Tribe works to protect art (Arts and Entertainment 10/10)
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)

Relevant Links:
The Indian Arts and Crafts Board -