Your purchase is more important than you realize! Many people are interested in Native American art, but unfortunately so are a lot of dishonest people! Millions upon millions of dollars every year are spent on fraudulent goods and services provided by people claiming to be members of tribes, or of tribal descent, with no actual connection to a tribal nation!
The Indian Arts and Crafts Act is a truth in advertising law that prohibits the sale of Indian and “Indian style" products if they are not actually produced by members of recognized tribes, or are a certified Indian Artist, or member of an Indian Craft Organization. First time offenders can receive up to $250,000 in fines and up to 5 years in prison. Business can face civil penalties and up to $1 million in fines. It’s a big deal! Native Americans are at an economic and social disadvantage, and many traditional artists don’t have access to the same resources as non-native. (Internet, advertising, capital, etc.)
Myths about Native Americans are some of the most harmful factors that make this market so hostile to Natives trying to push their way back into their own spaces. Some myths you may have heard…
Myths About Native American Art
• “There aren’t any Indians left who know/make this.”
This is one of the most prevalent arguments you may hear for why you should purchase said item/service from this person. This myth perpetuates the stereotype that we are all gone. Their business relies on the ignorance of the customer! Often inaccurate and/or overpriced, they attempt to sell you on the notion that they alone have preserved this art, just for you!
• “you’re all rich off casinos anyway, don’t pay taxes, get free gas? College, cars, etc. Why should I buy it?”
Oh how I wish this one were true!! Some tribes provide “per-capita” payments to their citizens, somewhat like a stimulus. But the majority do not, nor do they have a sustainable means of doing so. Tribal people exist as federal entities, live on federal lands, receive federal funds etc. Which means we have to jump through federal hoops! Try building a shop on land owned by the federal government, and NOT report your taxes.
• “my great grandmother was Cherokee, so technically it is native made.”
Now to be clear, there are MANY people who have legitimate ancestry that aren’t enrolled in recognized tribes, maybe they don’t meet enrollment requirements, or just never enrolled. But distant family lore, or “appreciation for the Indians” does not give the right to market “Indian style" products if you are not native. Cheekbones aren’t checks!
•"All people/cultures had *insert craft here* it belongs to all of us."
What a headache this one has been, whether it be videos of horrid "pow-wow" imitations, fake tribes, guru-types, fake indian art, etc. This one always seems to come up. I have heard it in every situation all across the country, and seen millions of dollars in fines given out as a result in some cases. Not only does this promote native erasure, it it is only a weak diversion from the argument at hand.
I believe historical interpretation and arts are vastly important to our endeavors in the modern world! Because most people's exposure to Native Americans begins and ends with museums, history books, and movies, it is vital that Indigenous people reclaim these spaces and start to change the way we are perceived. Those individuals that make laws, negotiate treaty arrangements, and act as go betweens for Tribal nations and the Federal Government see the SAME movies, history, articles etc... as everyone else. Do you think their opinions are influenced by those sources? I believe so.
If you are an Indigenous person, a Human Being, reading this...
1. Persist. You are vastly more important than you realize. Your existence is their failure, keep it that way.
2. I believe our history and our future look very similar. These traditions, languages, food sovereignty, ways of life... may be exactly what sets the stage for our grandchildren to thrive.
3. Reclaim your space! I promise there is a place for you, being Indigenous is more than a skin tone. Everyone was indigenous once, because indigenous is a title given by creation. A relationship with our world that is unique and sustainable, learning to find our place as equals with all living things.
The world is busy, and while we have to live in this reality for now, it may change. I wonder what our ancestors thought we would be doing today
Presenting at the National Museum of the American Indian
Program at Ft. Dobbs state historic Site
Presentation at Colonial Williamsburg