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Feds: Artist Terry Lee Whetstone Is a Fake Indian

Federal prosecutors have filed charges against artist Terry Lee Whetstone, alleging that his claim to Cherokee heritage is fraudulent.
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Federal prosecutors have charged artist Terry Lee Whetstone with falsely representing himself as Cherokee, according to a report at KansasCity.com.

Whetstone is not an enrolled member of one of the three federally recognized Cherokee Nations, but he is a member of the Northern Cherokee Nation, a group that is not federally recognized.

Editor's Note: Although sources reported that the Northern Cherokee Nation is recognized by the state of Missouri, this appears to be an error. An article from the Santa Clara Law Review tells of recognition efforts by the Tribe dating back to 1983, but concludes that no official recognition has ever been bestowed. The article adds that "the Missouri American Indian Council asserts that there are no domestic Indian tribes recognized by the state." A list of state-recognized Tribes at the National Conference of State Legislatures website includes no entries for Missouri. This article has been edited to reflect these findings.

Selling art as Native-made when it's not is a violation of the 1990 Indian Arts & Craft Act. The text of the act at the Indian Arts & Craft Board's website states that "Under the Act, an Indian is defined as a member of any federally or officially State recognized Indian Tribe, or an individual certified as an Indian artisan by an Indian Tribe."

Whetstone's website has been taken offline, but a cached version is viewable via the Internet Archive. His biography reads as follows:

A self-taught, talented American Indian Flute Performer and multi-faceted Artist. TerryLee reflects the history of his Cherokee heritage in his music and art. TerryLee recognizes a deep Spiritual connection and acknowledges these talents as gifts given to him from the Father. His Spiritual connection guides him in all endeavors, painting, poetry, jewelry design, or through the melodies he produces when playing the American Indian Flute. TerryLee proclaims "It is of the Father, my hands and eyes are guided by the heart and then the mind. My art is directed Spiritually."

Although the Feds are not sharing additional details beyond the court filing, the KansasCity.com report mentions that Whetstone listed his ethnicity as "white" on a 1997 Jackson County marriage license application.