Heinrich Participates In Field Hearing On Need to Crack Down on Counterfeit Indian Art

SANTA FE, N.M. — U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) participate in a field hearing at Santa Fe Indian School to discuss the rampant problem of counterfeit Native American art in New Mexico and across the country. The hearing was an opportunity to hear from Tribal leaders and artists, experts, and law enforcement officials about how to modernize the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 (IACA) to better protect Native American artists and consumers. U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, chaired the hearing.

“Native American art and craftwork is a tremendous economic driver for tribal communities in our state and throughout Indian Country,” said Heinrich. “New Mexicans understand the value of supporting true Tribal artists and recognize the dangers posed by counterfeit items or items claiming to be Native produced. When tribal artists and communities are denied ownership of their own cultures, they lose the ability to maintain their language, their beliefs, and their way of life. This hearing helped us learn what steps we need to take to make sure all products are marketed truthfully so Native artists can thrive in an ethical marketplace.”

"As we heard today, we’ve got a serious problem on our hands. Fake Indian arts and crafts are flooding the markets right here in Santa Fe and across the country. For example, we heard today that a huge percentage of the jewelry marketed as Indian made — possibly as high as 80 percent -- may actually be counterfeit, yet only two U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers are dedicated to investigating scammers. This rampant and shocking illegal trade is destabilizing the Native art market, devaluing Native American art, and forcing Native Americans to quit their crafts -- and it must be stopped. We must take action to stop this assault on artists' ability to carry on deeply significant traditions that have helped hold families and communities together for generations," Udall said.

"Unfortunately, counterfeit Indian art is an old issue. Back in 1996, when I was Attorney General of New Mexico, I sued these scammers. We’ve made progress, but as we can see, the problem is still out of control, and we absolutely must make the law stronger and tougher so we can root out the black market and shut it down," Udall continued. "I want to thank all of the participants today as well as Senator Heinrich for joining us. I heard good ideas about how I can work to update and strengthen the Indian Arts and Craft Act to fulfill our shared goals of safeguarding cultural sovereignty. This issue of justice and self-determination is critical to the economic stability of Indian artists in New Mexico and across the country, and we will stop the scammers.” 

Among the witnesses were Meridith Stanton, executive director of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board; Joyce Begay Foss, an award-winning weaver and director of the Living Traditions Education Center at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture; Dallin Maybee, another award-winning artist and CEO of the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts; and Harvey Pratt, a master artist and chairman of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board and a former law enforcement officer in Oklahoma.  

The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 is a truth-in-advertising law that prohibits misrepresentation in marketing of Indian arts and crafts products within the United States. Under the statute, it is 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 or Indian Tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization, resident within the United States. The law imposes criminal and civil penalties, including prison.

Video of the hearing available here: https://www.facebook.com/senatortomudall/videos/10155306351967870/

Senator Heinrich’s remarks as prepared for delivery: 

I would like to thank Senator Udall for his leadership.

Senator Udall is a staunch ally for Indian Country and I appreciate you hosting this hearing and the opportunity to join you.

I’d also like to thank the Senate Indian Affairs Committee staff for all your hard work leading up to today’s hearing on such an important issue for New Mexico.

I would also like to thank our panelists for taking the time to be here to provide testimony before the committee. 

Your testimony is crucial to helping Congress and the Administration better understand and protect American Indian art.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge and thank the Santa Fe Police Department and the Capitol Police for being here today.

I appreciate your service and dedication.  

In New Mexico, we all recognize the incredible beauty of American Indian art--from the art left long ago on canyon walls in places like Chaco Canyon and the Gila Cliff Dwellings to the traditional and modern art masterpieces created by Native artists to this day. 

Here in Santa Fe, some of our nation’s leading Native artists are trained at the Santa Fe Indian School and at the Institute of American Arts. 

And more than 1,000 Native artists gather here every August to display and sell their art at the Annual Santa Fe Indian Market.

The sale of Native American art and craftwork is a tremendous economic driver for tribal communities in our state and throughout Indian Country.

New Mexicans understand the value of supporting true tribal artists and recognize the dangers posed by counterfeit items or items claiming to be Native produced.

For centuries, the United States has used appropriation of Native cultures as a tool of colonization.

Today, when non-Indians sell jewelry or pottery as “Indian art,” they are denying the right of tribal communities to define and control what tribal art is.  

This cultural appropriation removes Native art and traditions from their rightful context and denies the right of tribal communities to maintain sovereignty over their history and culture.

When tribal communities are denied ownership of their own cultures, they lose the ability to maintain their language, their beliefs, and their way of life.  

The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 is essentially a truth-in-advertising law that prohibits misrepresentation or falsely displaying arts or crafts as Indian-produced.

We’re here today to learn more about whether that law is working and what steps we need to take to make sure all products are marketed truthfully so Native artists can thrive in an ethical marketplace.

I would also like to quickly touch on another important issue, which I have been proud to work on with Senator Udall and tribes in New Mexico.

Many tribes in New Mexico have experienced people stealing and trafficking objects that are not art, but their essential religious and cultural patrimony.

When somebody steals and sells a tribe’s cultural patrimony they are stealing that tribe’s traditions and identity.   

Last month, I was proud to reintroduce the bipartisan Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony—or STOP—Act, a bill to prohibit the exporting of sacred Native American items and increase penalties for stealing and illegally trafficking tribal cultural patrimony.

I announced the bill’s reintroduction during a meeting with students from the Santa Fe Indian School Leadership Institute’s Summer Policy Academy in my office in Washington. 

I was moved by these students’ perspectives and personal stories.  

They talked a lot about the responsibility they felt to preserve their cultural heritage and fulfill their sacred trust as generations before them have.

 That is what’s at the heart of today’s hearing for me.

With that, I thank all of you again, and I look forward to hearing from our two panels.