Three New Mexicans have been charged with violating a federal law that protects the artwork of traditional Native American artisans, authorities said Thursday.
“The indictment announced today and yesterday’s enforcement operation are not only about enforcing the law but also about protecting and preserving the cultural heritage of Native Americans,” U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez for the District of New Mexico said in a press release.
Following a three-year investigation, federal authorities discovered that the three individuals had allegedly imported and sold Filipino-made jewelry and peddled them as authentic Native American-made work. The federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act [IACA] states that it is illegal to market and sell inauthentic Native American jewelry and items.
The indictments come after 16 search warrants were executed Wednesday by authorities in both New Mexico and California.
Haudenosaunee artist Skaruianewah Logan, who has been beading and making traditional cultural items for more than 10 years, told ICTMN that many indigenous pieces have a purpose and story, and that inauthentic work is a perversion of the culture.
“A lot of pieces have stories to them. It means something special,” she said. “Maybe [the artist] dreamt about it. So when people see that they’re captivated by it. Once you try to take it and pervert it for something else it loses its specialness. It just makes me sad that our traditions have been diluted down to something to turn a profit.”
Artist Mariah Gladstone, who is Blackfeet and Cherokee, told ICTMN that authentic Native American cultural items are rare because of the genocide that was committed against them.
"There are so many incredible Native artists that make products for sale and their business is being undercut by these characters; it's gross," she wrote in an message. "The reason Native American made goods are inherently valuable is because of their rarity. There was a genocide against Natives and it makes our art more valuable."
Gladstone said Native American artwork "cannot be replicated because it requires replicating the entire indigenous experience" since there is so much of the culture in the work itself.
If convicted, the three indicted individuals face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.