Patawomeck artist challenges state laws and tribal leaders to define ‘Indian art’

Brian Oaster

Indian Arts and Crafts Act (IACA), originally installed in 1935 - Who decides who’s Indian enough to market their work as Native-made?

A Patawomeck artist is challenging a Missouri law that excludes her work from the definition of an “Authentic American Indian art.”

Peggy Fontenot is an award-winning photographer, and a member of the Powhatan Patawomeck Tribe of Virginia, a state-recognized tribe that was once part of the Powhatan Confederacy. She’s based in California but sells her work around the country. Under the Missouri law, Fontenot could face fines or imprisonment for labeling her work as Native-made. The law requires enrollment in a federally recognized tribe to qualify for the label. But Fontenot and her lawyers say it’s unconstitutional.

States taking federal law into their own hands

At face value, the law is meant to protect Indigenous artists from fraudsters like the five people indicted in 2017 for selling hundreds of thousands of dollars of fake Native jewelry. They manufactured their goods overseas, labeled them as Native American, and retailed them in stores like Old Town Albequerque’s Gallery 8 and Gallery Azul, in violation of federal law.

These indictments resulted from the cooperation of federal departments like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI, who collaborated on warrants across five states for the biggest investigation ever into Native art fraud.

Because there’s already a federal law protecting Native artists against fraudsters. It’s the Indian Arts and Crafts Act (IACA), originally installed in 1935 and most recently updated in 1990. So why is Missouri trying to replicate this law at a local level, with a narrower definition of who is Native?

Missouri legislator dismisses state-recognized tribes

Powhatan in a longhouse at Werowocomoco (detail of John Smith map, 1612)
Powhatan in a longhouse at Werowocomoco (detail of John Smith map, 1612) - The Powhatan Patawomeck are part of the Powhatan Confederacy, yet they are still only state-recognized in Virginia.

“As with many federal laws, States adopt similar laws so that they can be enforced on a local level rather than trying to get the Feds to enforce,” says Rep. Rocky Miller, the Missouri legislator who sponsored the bill.

“Missouri has no state-recognized tribes, nor does it have a method to recognize them, so it does not make sense to add any to our law. The federal recognition is well documented,” he says, “and states recognition process is all over the map and in some cases, suspect. I see no problem with requiring federal recognition in our state.”

Rep. Miller is a member of the Cherokee Nation, one of the largest federally recognized tribes by citizenship. He also ran for tribal council in 2017 and is a board member of the Missouri chapter of the Trail of Tears Association.

Fontenot does not agree with the rationale behind Miller’s law. “The IACA allows state-recognized, certified and First Nation individuals to legally market and sell their art as ‘Indian’ made,” she countered. Fontenot says Virginia’s criteria for tribal recognition is “stringent,” adding that “state recognition is a requirement for seeking federal recognition.”

Challenging the law as a violation of free speech

Fontenot’s legal team argues that disallowing Indian Arts and Crafts Act-qualifying artists from labeling their work as Native-made is a violation of first amendment rights.

“This is a first amendment case because Missouri has banned Peggy from speaking truthfully about herself and her art. Even though she is an award-winning and well-known Native artist, she cannot describe her art as American Indian-made in Missouri,” says Caleb R. Trotter, one of Fontenot’s attorneys. “Missouri cannot meet its burden to justify prohibiting Peggy from engaging in truthful speech.”

“When the government bans speech, it has the burden of showing it has no less restrictive alternatives available to it to further a substantial interest,” adds Fontenot. “In this case, Missouri has multiple alternatives available to prevent fraud without banning me from speaking truthfully, such as enforcing existing truth-in-advertising laws and the federal IACA.” She adds that “requiring disclosures about an artist’s tribe” would be a constitutional and commonplace alternative.

Fontenot and her attorneys overturned a similar law in Oklahoma earlier this year

An Oklahoma law nearly identical to the Missouri one was struck down in March for going against the Indian Arts and Crafts Act after Fontenot and her legal team sued.

"The state act, by interjecting a narrower definition for 'American Indian' than is set forth in the IACA, prohibits in Oklahoma certain conduct — specifically the marketing and sale of works by some artists — that otherwise is protected," ruled U.S. District Judge Charles B. Goodwin. "In doing so, the State Act diminishes 'the market for the products of Indian art and craftsmanship’ ... that the IACA states it was designed to promote and develop."

Trotter says the court’s decision was based on “the legislative history that showed Congress deliberately was more inclusive. As a result,” he adds, “the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause prohibits states from undermining that deliberate Congressional choice.” If Congress says a Native artist qualifies, state legislators can’t exclude them.

The authors of these bills were all Cherokee

Oklahoma’s overturned bill was written by Rep. Chuck Hoskin, Sr. from Oklahoma’s 6th district, and Oklahoma state Sen. John Sparks from the sixteenth district. They, like Rep. Miller in Missouri, are members of the Cherokee Nation. Rep. Hoskin, A former tribal council member, was serving as Chief of Staff to Principal Chief Bill John Baker at the time, and is the father of newly-elected Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr.

Is it a coincidence that these almost identical laws in two different states were written by Cherokee citizens serving as state legislators? Did the Cherokee Nation coordinate these laws?

“I truly don't know,” says Rep. Miller. But the Cherokee Nation says Miller reached out to them for help.

“I wouldn’t say it was coordinated,” says Chief Hoskin. But Cherokee tribal government did have a hand in initiating the Oklahoma bill, and he acknowledges that there was communication between the Cherokee Nation and Rep. Miller as Miller, inspired by the Oklahoma law, drafted the Missouri one. “We were there really to support,” says Hoskin.

He says Kimberley Teehee visited Miller’s office in Missouri to exchange ideas and represent the Cherokee Nation’s perspective. Teehee currently serves as Vice President of Government Relations for Cherokee Nation Businesses, and Chief Hoskin recently appointed her to be the first Cherokee delegate to Congress in Washington, D.C.

Pictured: Cherokee National Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. delivered his first State of the Nation Address during the 67th Cherokee National Holiday, proposing the largest investment in language programs in the tribe’s history and detailing even more historic initiatives.
Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr.(Photo: Cherokee Nation)

Cherokee Nation drawing boundaries around tribal identity

“You could survey the country and see a large number of organizations posing as Cherokee tribes,” says Chief Hoskin. He said he recalls visiting the Oklahoma legislature’s gift shop and seeing art labeled as Native American, crafted by members of the New Echota Cherokee Tribe.

“That’s not a tribe,” says Hoskin. “It’s simply an organization.” But a consumer, he says, wouldn’t know the difference. “So this is about protecting consumers, from our vantage point, as much as it is protecting artists.”

Instead of tackling the Indian Arts and Crafts Act nationwide, the Cherokee Nation sought to amend it at a state level. “We really were just focused on Oklahoma because it has the largest impact on our artists and the artists of the tribes who helped us.” The bill was supported by the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes, which includes the Chiefs of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, Muscogee (Creek) and Cherokee Nations, all based in Oklahoma.

Hoskin says state-recognized tribes don’t have the same relationships with the U.S. government that federally recognized tribes do. “The status of an Indian tribe matters under the law,” he says. “It matters for the assertion of treaty rights… It matters in terms of our ability to exercise the rights of sovereignty and self-government, and other rights that people have lost land and treasure and life for over the centuries. We do not appreciate what we consider to be organizations posing as tribes being used as a mantle for an artist to market their art in the same way that members of federally recognized tribes market their art. We think it’s not right from a consumer’s standpoint, and certainly not right from an artist’s standpoint.”

Chief Hoskin calls Congress’s inclusive definition ‘wrong’ and ‘too broad’

Regarding Congress’s definition of ‘Indian art’ in the Indian Arts and Crafts Act: ”I think it’s wrong,” says Chief Hoskin. “I think it’s at odds with the constitutional role that Congress plays in Indian affairs… Congress’s definition is broad, and it’s too broad in my view. But it’s also not consistent across the federal government in terms of how they deal on a government-to-government basis with Indian nations. That is, I think, crystal clear.”

He says the Cherokee Nation might pursue the matter further in the future. “It’s something we’re still interested in.” Although he was involved as Secretary of State in getting the law passed, Hoskin was campaigning for Chief when the law was overturned and says he hasn’t been focused on it while in office. “We may return our attention to it to see if there's a way a modified version could be crafted to protect what I think is a very important interest, which is the place of members of federally recognized tribes in the marketplace.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. District Court’s decision in favor of Congress, the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, and Fontenot suggests that Missouri’s law might be overturned as well. Emboldened by their victory in Oklahoma, Fontenot and her legal team hope to soon have the Missouri law thrown out.

ICT Phone Logo

Brian Oaster is a Choctaw writer and seventh-generation survivor of the Trail of Tears living in the Pacific Northwest. Follow him on Twitter: @brianoaster.

Comments (3)
No. 1-3

When Alabama or Louisiana decides to unilaterally recognize a group of hobbyists as an "Indian tribe," by what right do they have to force that designation upon the other states? Why should the states that forcibly removed the majority of their tribal peoples force others to accept their white descendants as "American Indians," when the US federal government does not accept them as American Indians—if they have not accepted them as federally recognized tribes? [The exception, of course, is the Lumbee Nation, whom the US federal government agreed were Indians but not a tribe, as per the 1956 Lumbee Act.]

There's no law against being an artist anywhere in the US. Peggy Fontenot should be able to show as an artist and not use a false "Native American" label to try to build a market for her artwork.



Hello and blessed are you who found me. My name is DR ODUCK AYAMUD ( OR .... YOU CAN USE ANY OF THE EMAILS TO CONTACT HIM ), and am here to help you change and transform your life in the most positive way possible. I use the power of white, black craft and Wicca and voodoo spell casting to help people just like you they get the love they want and the money they deserve.

My love spell offer amazing and quick results. Do you want to find your soulmate? Do you want to reunite with a past lover and make him or her love you again? Do you need to bind a troublemaker from causing problems in your relationship? With my spell casting service, I can cast a love spell on your behalf that will help all of your wishes and dreams come true. I also do other custom spells, such as money spells, job spells, friendship spells, and good luck spells.

You may have already tried the power of spells and prayers to get what you want. Although it is true that everyone has the ability to cast spells and perform magic, spell casting is like a muscle. Everyone has this 'muscle' but the more you use it, the stronger it gets, and the more things you are able to do with it. If you are not an experienced spell caster, your spell may not be as strong, and the results not as quick as you may desire. GET YOUR PROBLEMS SOLVE HERE AND BE FREE!!

Hello to people that want to be Great,

Note: This Spell casting do not have any effect on any one, But just to get your problem solve ok. Get your problem solve in master...You can get the bellow problems solve here.

  1. Bring back lost lover, even if lost for a long time
  2. Remove bad spells from homes, business & customer attraction etc.
  3. Get promotion you have desired for a long time at work or in your career.
  4. Remove the black pot that keeps on taking your money away
  5. Find out why you are not progressing in life and the solution
  6. Eliminate in family fights
  7. Ensure excellent school grades even for children with mental disabilities
  8. Stop your marriage or relationship from breaking apart
  9. I destroy and can send back the Nikolos if requested
  10. We heal barrenness in women and disturbing menstruation
  11. Get you marriage to the lover of your choice
  12. Guarantee you win the troubling court cases & divorce no matter how what stage
  13. Ensure success in work and business
  14. Mental illness & bewitched
  15. Can’t sleep at night or walking at night
  16. Recover stolen property and whereabouts of people that hurt you.
  17. Bring supernatural luck into your home
  18. Extreme protection for those doing dangerous jobs like security guards, Bank manager, cash transporters, etc

I have over 20 years of spell casting experience, and i have successfully cast spells to help hundreds of people improve their love life, financial situation, and happiness.



Hello all, Why must we be confused by all this online scammers when we all know that there has never been any other oracle apart from the the great spell casters called lama lama oracle temple, The great oracle and also i my self called kuq ya that is greatest of all, Kuq ya means GREATEST AMONG ALL THE SPELL CASTERS. This oracle has been in existence for so many years even before i was born i inherited it from my great grand father. Since we have been existing we have never failed in solving any kind of problem anyone must have been having cos we know the spirits that we serve we never lets us down, We perform various sacrifice to this spirits from time to time to make our powerful and doings effective. This temple is out on the internet to tell all of you that is wasting your time and also your hard earned money dealing with all this hungry souls that called themselves spell casters by bring cause to themselves by claiming to be what they are not, We advise you all that you should stop it as it is not right to do such, Because those spell casters that called themselves different names / temples are scammers,You will do this greatest oracle good by doing that.They are scammers and all those testimony there are posted by them also and not the people they have help,They are doing all this to get money to fed there-self and there family members !!! BE WARNED ALL OF YOU THAT NEED HELP FROM SPELL CASTERS AS IT IS BECAUSE OF ALL OF YOU WE HAVE DECIDED TO COME ONLINE TO REDUCE AND STOP ALL THIS FAKE SPELL CASTERS, AS WE GOT PERMISSION FROM THE FBI !!.. I have made so many of them online that are spoiling this great temple good work go back to the sea and some blind. I am Dr Kuq Ya the messenger to the great oracle of Nigeria,Indian,Indonesia,Singapore,UK,USA,Uganda,japan,Spain,Germany,Paris,Dubai,South Africa. To mention but a few..We are know well there as the great temple that has helped them get many of there ANCESTRAL problems solve in recent times. But we are also extending this great offer to those that have any kind of problem, when i mean any kind of problem i mean any problem at all you might be having in this life,Such as getting your lover back,you want to be rich, you feel like using charms on someone to get something you like from him or her or getting your scam many back, wining a lottery, to mention but a few. KUQ YA IS HERE FOR YOUR SERVICES AND PLEASE STOP DEALING WITH THOSE SO CALLED SPELL CASTERS THAT HAVE REALLY MESSED UP THIS WORK ONLINE. I HAVE NEVER BEEN ONLINE,BUT THE PRESIDENTS OF THE ABOVE COUNTRIES CALLED ME ON PHONE AND ALSO PERSONALLY HOLD A MEETING AND THEY ASK ME THE MESSENGER TO START ADVERTING AND TELL ALL ABOUT THIS GREATEST ORACLE THAT IS SO DURABLE, PERFECT, MARVELOUS, AND GOOD WORKS TO AVOID THIS SCAMMING THAT IS GOING ON ONLINE. I WILL BE ENDING HERE NOW, IF YOU HAVE ANYTHING BOTHERING YOUR MIND AND YOU NEED PERMANENT SOLUTION TO IT WITHOUT ANY SIDE EFFECT OR HARM, KINDLY SEND AN EMAIL TO THE FOLLOWING EMAIL ADDRESS: Thanks and may the spirits guide you to read and understand what i said and also we will be awaiting response from you all that have problems that want it solve at once.Thanks for your patronage as you come. To enhance fast communication, Kindly send down your Name : Country: State: Address: More about the kind of help you want here: Phone number: Age: Gender : Job: and any other information's you know it will be so helpful on the kind of work and help you wish for here. Because we solve any kind of problem in this life. NOTE : MY GMAIL ACCOUNT IS NOW BAD AS YOU CAN ONLY GET ME ON THIS EMAIL : So don't contact me via me gmail account. And also our spell casting here has no side effect, As it is just to grant you your heart desires without any problem.