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South Carolina modifies turkey feather law for Native artists

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COLUMBIA, S.C. - Native artists in South Carolina can now legally sell and use wild turkey feathers in their crafts, regalia and artwork.

Senate Bill 1122, permitting use of wild turkey feathers, was ratified by the Legislature June 5 and Gov. Mark Sanford signed it into law June 11, not long after state lawmakers ended their session.

The new law amended the state's Department of Natural Resources regulations pertaining to hunting, killing or selling wild turkeys and their parts.

Specifically, the amendment states, ''An American Indian artist, who is a member of a tribe recognized by Public Law 101-644, the Indian Arts and Crafts Board Act, and the state Commission on Minority Affairs, may use wild turkey feathers in arts and crafts that are offered for sale and sold to the general public if the artist has on his person a tribal identification card demonstrating his authorization pursuant to the Indian Arts and Crafts Board Act.

''This section does not authorize the sale of other parts of wild turkeys, whether taken lawfully or unlawfully, including, but not limited to caps, beards and fans.''

The Senate version of the bill was introduced Feb. 19 by Sen. C. Bradley Hutto, D-40th District; Rep. Edward ''Ted'' Pitts, R-69th District; and Rep. McClain ''Mac'' Toole, R-88th District, with the help of Louie Chavis of the Beaver Creek Indians. South Carolina Indian Affairs Commission Chairman Harold Hatcher, Waccamaw, pushed the bill through.

The governor met with the state's tribal chiefs and Native leaders July 15 at the state Capitol to sign the law.

Before signing, Sanford explained that American Indians were violating state law by using wild turkey feathers but acknowledged that they had used turkey feathers for hundreds of years.

During the ceremony, Chavis said the old law, which was still on the books, was enacted in the early 1900s when there were few turkeys in the state.

Hatcher praised Sanford for becoming an ally with the state's American Indians in signing these laws.

''It outlined two things in the state that I thought that needed to be changed. We made a lot of progress in that area.''

''Louie Chavis came to me and expressed concern that Native Americans may be breaking the law by doing the age-old tradition, which is using turkey feathers in [regalia], selling those, whether it is a dream catcher, or something like that,'' Pitts said.

''We basically looked at the law and said, 'What can we do? We need to call out an exception for Native Americans.' We have done that with this law, the turkey feather law.''

''This law will allow us and our arts to earn money, traditionally,'' Hatcher said. ''In other words, if we put a dream catcher out and don't hang a turkey feather on it, we can't call that traditional art. So if an artist made a living selling that dream catcher, he would be breaking the law.

''We wanted to make it right. They can now make traditional art and still earn their living, doing art just like any other ethnic artist.''