July 07, 2017

Udall Holds Field Hearing on Need to Crack Down on Counterfeit Indian Art

Udall has led fight against scammers since serving as NM attorney general, plans bill to strengthen law, 'root out the black market'

SANTA FE, N.M. — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, held a field hearing at the Santa Fe Indian School to discuss the rampant problem of counterfeit Native American art in New Mexico and across the country. The hearing was an opportunity to hear from Tribal leaders and artists, experts, and law enforcement officials about how to modernize the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 (IACA) to better protect Native American artists and consumers. Udall plans to introduce legislation in the Indian Affairs Committee based on information he heard from the witnesses. U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich joined Udall at the hearing.

"As we heard today, we’ve got a serious problem on our hands. Fake Indian arts and crafts are flooding the markets right here in Santa Fe and across the country. For example, we heard today that a huge percentage of the jewelry marketed as Indian made — possibly as high as 80 percent -- may actually be counterfeit, yet only two U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers are dedicated to investigating scammers. This rampant and shocking illegal trade is destabilizing the Native art market, devaluing Native American art, and forcing Native Americans to quit their crafts -- and it must be stopped. We must take action to stop this assault on artists' ability to carry on deeply significant traditions that have helped hold families and communities together for generations," Udall said.

"Unfortunately, counterfeit Indian art is an old issue. Back in 1996, when I was Attorney General of New Mexico, I sued these scammers. We’ve made progress, but as we can see, the problem is still out of control, and we absolutely must make the law stronger and tougher so we can root out the black market and shut it down," Udall continued. "I want to thank all of the participants today as well as Senator Heinrich for joining us. I heard good ideas about how I can work to update and strengthen the Indian Arts and Craft Act to fulfill our shared goals of safeguarding cultural sovereignty. This issue of justice and self-determination is critical to the economic stability of Indian artists in New Mexico and across the country, and we will stop the scammers."

“Native American art and craftwork is a tremendous economic driver for tribal communities in our state and throughout Indian Country,” said Heinrich. “New Mexicans understand the value of supporting true Tribal artists and recognize the dangers posed by counterfeit items or items claiming to be Native produced. When tribal artists and communities are denied ownership of their own cultures, they lose the ability to maintain their language, their beliefs, and their way of life. This hearing helped us learn what steps we need to take to make sure all products are marketed truthfully so Native artists can thrive in an ethical marketplace.”

Among the witnesses were Meridith Stanton, executive director of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board; Joyce Begay Foss, an award-winning weaver and director of the Living Traditions Education Center at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture; Dallin Maybee, another award-winning artist and CEO of the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts; and Harvey Pratt, a master artist and chairman of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board and a former law enforcement officer in Oklahoma.

The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 is a truth-in-advertising law that prohibits misrepresentation in marketing of Indian arts and crafts products within the United States. Under the statute, it is illegal to offer or display for sale, or sell any art or craft product 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, resident within the United States. The law imposes criminal and civil penalties, including prison.

In February, a federal grand jury in Albuquerque returned indictments against five people, a result of the largest-ever investigation into fake jewelry sales under the IACA. The alleged scam involved the importation of jewelry made in the Philippines marketed as Indian-made and sold at jewelry in stores in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and elsewhere. The case has ties to one that Udall prosecuted as state attorney general over 20 years ago. As the witnesses testified today, however, the IACA has not given law enforcement all of the tools it needs to be as effective as possible.

Video of the hearing will be available on the committee website: https://www.indian.senate.gov/

The following is Senator Udall's opening statement as prepared for delivery during the hearing:

Welcome to Indian Country. And thank you to everyone who made it out to Santa Fe.

I look forward to today’s discussion – exploring how to modernize the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. It is long overdue. I’m looking forward to a productive day.

Today’s hearing is an official Senate Committee on Indian Affairs field hearing. The format for today is the same as the format we use for hearings in Washington, D.C. The committee will hear testimony from two panels of witnesses, and committee members will ask the witnesses questions.

Thank you to all the witnesses who have traveled here today to help us understand these issues and figure out how we can do better to protect the cultural integrity of Native American arts and crafts.

So, today’s congressional hearing is not a town hall, for example, where folks speak out from the audience and ask questions. We are here to take testimony from our witnesses.

However, we want to hear from everyone on the critical issue before us.

So, you are invited and are most welcome to submit your comments and ideas. To do that, you can email to testimony@indian.senate.gov. That’s testimony@indian.senate.gov. We will leave the official record open for two weeks, until July 21, and I encourage you to submit comments.

Also, please feel free to talk to my staff after the hearing with any questions. They are seated behind me and around in the audience, and they are wearing staff IDs.

I’d like to first thank the Santa Fe Indian School for hosting us today.

Thank you to Superintendent Roy Herrera for his thoughtful opening remarks. Santa Fe Indian School is in good hands with Superintendent Herrera.

And thank you, Jude, for that beautiful opening prayer. You are one of the future leaders of Indian Country, and I am glad you are here to witness the legislative process in action.

Santa Fe Indian School was established in 1890 to educate Native American youth from the tribes throughout the Southwest. It was established during the Boarding School era, a shameful period when the federal government removed Native children from their communities and attempted to assimilate them into Anglo society by - among other things - prohibiting children from speaking their native languages and practicing their beliefs.

Sitting here today, on the grounds of this Tribally controlled school located on Pueblo land, it’s clear to see – and I’m proud to say - that our nation has made great strides from its disastrous policies of the past.

Santa Fe Indian School and other Native schools exercise educational sovereignty by promoting Native languages, and affirming cultural identity by supporting Native students’ cultural and traditional beliefs.

But we still need to do much more to protect cultural sovereignty - for now and the future.

That is why I chose Santa Fe Indian School as the location for today’s hearing - to highlight the gains made and the work that still needs to be done.

As the vice chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, I intend to hold a series of hearings right here in New Mexico that focus on supporting cultural identity, to make sure future generations of Native Americans have what their elders had - pride in Native American culture, and a way to practice time-honored traditions of craftsmanship while maintaining a livelihood.

We’ve got a serious problem on our hands. Imitation Indian arts and crafts are flooding the market in places like Gallup, Albuquerque, Phoenix, and right here in Santa Fe. A network of swindlers are making millions of dollars off the backs of Native Americans. This situation is wholly unacceptable.

The mass production of imitation Native American jewelry and other crafts destabilizes the Native art market, forcing Native American artisans to drop prices to keep up with wholesale prices of so-called “Native American” jewelry that is actually fake.

Artificially low prices then force Native Americans to quit their crafts – crafts that oftentimes have been passed down over many generations.

Arts and crafts are a major economic driver for Indian Country. Fake art drives down prices, forces Native Americans to quit their crafts, and devalues Native American art. We want this to stop. We want to see Native Americans reap the well-earned benefits from their art.

Santa Fe is at the epicenter of the problem. Our city is driven by tourism. And many tourists come here to experience Native American culture, and to buy Native American arts and crafts.

But many unknowingly buy imitation products - fueling the black market. Yet, we have hardly talked about this problem.

So, this hearing is important for a number of reasons. Most importantly, we want to ensure the cultural integrity of authentic Indian arts and crafts – by looking for ways to improve enforcement of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.

We need to do more to address this problem.

I am encouraged by recent efforts of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Attorney’s office.

For example, in the last couple of years, the U.S. Attorney’s office charged three New Mexicans with violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act by importing and fraudulently selling foreign-made jewelry as Native American-made. That was an international scheme.

And in February of this year, the U.S. Attorney’s office indicted several more people – including one person from the earlier case – with violating the Act for the same type of crimes.

Appropriation of Native art is not a new issue. This has been happening for decades. As an Attorney General, in 1996, I sued these scammers for violating the state’s Unfair Business Practices.

So during today’s hearing, we’ll explore how we can improve enforcement efforts.

Another goal of this hearing is to build consumer awareness of the problem so consumers make informed decisions when buying Native American arts and crafts. The fact is consumers want to purchase goods that are authentic. They don’t want to purchase the fake stuff. We need to educate consumers so they are not duped.

And, finally, we in Congress need to hear if there are ways the Indian Arts and Crafts Act needs to be updated and strengthened to fulfill the goals we all agree with.

So, again, thank you to all the witnesses for being here today.

Now, I would like to turn the floor over to my good friend and colleague Senator Heinrich, for his opening remarks.

Senator Heinrich has been a strong, strong advocate for Native Americans. And I look forward to continuing to work with him on these issues.