Strengthening Indian Arts and Crafts Act enforcement

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate passed a bill in September to strengthen investigations and enforcement of the law dealing with bogus American Indian arts and crafts.

The bill, the Indian Arts and Crafts Amendment Act (S. 1255), passed unanimously Sept. 23 and was sent to the House the next day, where it awaits congressional approval.

The bill would amend the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 to allow any federal law enforcement officer to investigate violations involving the sale of arts and crafts that are misrepresented as products created by American Indians. Currently, only the FBI is empowered to conduct investigations of Indian Arts and Crafts Act violations.

As a truth-in-advertising law, the Indian Arts and Crafts Act prohibits the misrepresentation in marketing of Indian arts and crafts products within the United States. It makes it 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, Indian tribe, Indian arts and crafts organization, based in the United States. Individual violators can face civil or criminal penalties of up to a $250,000 fine or five years in prison, or both. Business violators can face civil penalties or fines of up to $1 million for a first offense.

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board, an agency within the Interior Department, was set up to promote the economic development of American Indians and Alaska Natives through the expansion of the Indian arts and crafts market.

One of the board’s top priorities is the implementation and enforcement of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. The proposed amendment would further that priority, said Meredith Stanton, executive director of the IACB.

“The department supports it. The bill is not brand new. It’s been introduced before and, basically, what it does is it provides the authority for all federal law enforcement folks to investigate Indian Arts and Crafts Act cases, which would dramatically expand our toolbox for investigations.

“Right now we have an agreement with the FBI that provides the authority for all Department of the Interior law enforcement to investigate cases, but this would incorporate also law enforcement from, for example, Homeland Security, Department of Agriculture, Secret Service – it just broadens it dramatically.”

The board currently participates in educating law enforcement agencies in aspects of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, but it would welcome opportunities to expand that training.

“One example of what we’re doing now and we have done in the last three years is we go to the National Native American Law Enforcement Association’s annual training conference and we provide presentations/training for law enforcement that works within Indian country on reservations or near reservations as well as those working with Indian-related cases.

“It’s not at all unusual at the conference to be addressing FBI, Secret Service, Homeland Security, border patrol, Drug Enforcement Agency [and the Bureau of] Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms [and Explosives], so it’s not even just BIA or Interior Department law enforcement. This is a broad range of individuals that we educate about the act and recommend ways during the course of their daily work or investigations that if they become aware of any potential violations they can refer them to us or the FBI or Interior law enforcement,” Stanton said.

The education does not involve training law enforcement agents to recognize authentic Indian productions from fake ones, but centers more on the content of the act, how American Indians are defined, what an Indian product is, its labeling, and violations involving the vast amount of materials coming in from overseas that mimic or are fraudulently presented as American Indian arts and crafts products.