At a recent festival, as I walked through vendor row, I was somewhat startled at the number of vendors – probably at least half of them – who had dream catchers hanging from their tents. I didn’t stop to ask them all about the provenance of their goods, but I suspect that the question would have brought a lot of odd looks and interesting responses.
Although there are two parts to that question, today I want to focus on the legal part of that question: who made them, and how are they being advertised?
This came to mind because there was an announcement today of the sentencing in an Indian Arts and Crafts Act case – these cases don’t often go to trial, because they’re usually resolved by cease and desist letters, but in this case, the jewelry store owner got 6 months in jail, a year of parole, and a little over $9000 in fines.
What is the Indian Arts and Crafts Act?
The Indian Arts and Crafts Act (IACA) of 1990 is about preventing false advertising, stating, “It is unlawful to offer or display for sale or sell any good, with or without a Government trademark, in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian or Indian tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization.”
What does this mean for consumers?
If you’re in the US, and looking at buying something that looks Native American, ask where it’s from – who made it, what tribe they belong to, and whether it meets the requirements of the IACA. Legitimate artists and dealers will provide this information (often, but not always, including certificates of authenticity) without question. Use your intuition if someone is standoffish about providing this info, but be cautious.
The ethics of where you buy sacred items and who they come from is up to you, but is also worth considering.
What does this mean for vendors?
First, it means be aware of how you advertise things. Be aware of who you’re buying from, if you’re not making your own goods, and be aware of the law. Make sure that your descriptions are truthful, and that they are not in any way misleading.
Consider the ethics of buying sacred items from folks who do not come from the cultures that those items originate from as well.
Want more info?
Your best bet is the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, who oversees the enforcement of the act.
The author of this article is an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe, and produces products that fall under the IACA.