Counterfeit Native American Art Undercuts Legitimate Artists
Charles Loloma is regarded as one of the most influential Native American jewelers of the 20th century. The Hopi artist incorporated new designs and materials in rings and necklaces that sell for tens of thousands of dollars and are among the most valuable in Native American jewelry.
Loloma died in 1991. So when previously-unknown Loloma jewelry started showing up on eBay, it looked suspicious to federal agents charged with enforcing the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. Investigators posed as buyers and purchased from California resident Robert Haack $10,000 of what he advertised as genuine Loloma jewelry.
Agents then called Loloma’s niece, Verma Nequatewa, a jeweler who studied under her famous uncle. She traveled from her home on the Hopi Nation to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service forensics laboratory in Oregon to deconstruct the jewelry and certified that it was a fake.
“It just makes me angry,” Nequatewa told VOA. “Some of us artists work very hard to make our living, and people like this just get away with it.”
Haack was indicted on four counts of violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. He pleaded guilty in 2021 and is awaiting sentencing.
Nequatewa’s husband, Robert Rhodes, estimates that Haack sold more than one million dollars of fake Loloma jewelry before his arrest.
“It hurts the whole industry of Native American art,” he said. “Because if somebody thinks that they're buying a real Loloma piece and they pay ten thousand dollars for it only to find out it's a fake, they're not going to buy a piece of Indian art again.”
The Haack case is one of the few prosecuted by the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, which a GAO study found received 649 complaints between 1990 and 2010 and prosecuted five.
"These cases take a great deal of time and resources," said Indian Arts and Crafts Board director Meredith Stanton, an enrolled member of the Delaware Nation of Oklahoma.
The law protects the artistic work of any member of a federal- or state-recognized Indian tribe or anyone whom a federal or state-recognized Indian tribe certifies as an Indian artisan. Products marketed as “Native American style,” however, are not prohibited under the law and may be manufactured and sold by anyone.
Products designed by a Native American but produced by a non-Native American do not qualify as Native-American made. Products manufactured overseas are meant to be indelibly marked to identify their country of origin. But Cherokee historian and activist David Cornsilk says unscrupulous dealers simply peel off those labels and pass off those crafts as “Native made”.
The Navajo began producing jewelry in the mid-19th century, obtaining silver from melted down coins and candlesticks.
“We didn’t really have a money system. When we traded and got silver – whether it be through Spanish coins or whatever – we ended up converting that into jewelry,” said Navajo jeweler Reggie Mitchell. “In essence, we were wearing our wealth, and that became our way of bargaining or trading.”
The railroad – and later the automobile – brought curiosity seekers and ethnographers to the American Southwest. Enterprising Navajo, Hopi and other Pueblo artisans found ready buyers for their wares at railway stops in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
As demand for their crafts grew, Congress passed the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1935 (IACA). The law established an Indian Arts and Crafts Board within the Interior Department to help Native craft persons to market their work. The law also made it a misdemeanor to sell imitation products and set penalties at up to $2,000 and/or up to six months in jail.
This did not stop the counterfeiting, however. By 1985, the Commerce Department estimated annual sales of Native American arts and crafts at $400 to $800 million and suggested that cheap imitations imported from Mexico and Asia made up 20 percent of that market.
Congress in 1990 amended IACA, upgrading violations to felonies punishable by up to $250,000 in fines and/or five years in prison for individual violators and fines up to $1,000,000 for businesses.
“The original was directed toward the economy and well-being of American Indians, and the 1990 law was aimed at protecting buyers from fraud," Cornsilk told VOA. “The Internet complicates things because it allows for the buying and selling of items without actually coming in contact with the vendor, so there’s no way to know whether the person selling is legit.”
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Native American News Roundup May 28-June 3, 2023
Here are some of the Native American-related news stories that made headlines this week:
Tribes fear pending Supreme Court ruling could upend sovereignty
Native Americans are watching the U.S. Supreme Court for a decision in the case Brackeen v. Haaland, which will decide the fate of the 40-year-old Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).
Congress passed ICWA in 1978 to stop the large-scale removal of Indian children from their families and their placement in non-Native homes, as this was widely viewed as an attack on tribal sovereignty and a continuation of federal assimilation policies.
Ahead of ICWA’s passage, Calvin Isaac, former chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw who died in 2020, argued before the House Subcommittee on Indian Affairs that “many of the individuals who decide the fate of our children are, at best, ignorant of our cultural values and at worst, have contempt for the Indian way and convinced that removal, usually to a non-Indian household or institution, can only benefit an Indian child.”
In 2016, three sets of non-Native foster and prospective adoptive parents, along with the states of Texas, Indiana and Louisiana, took the federal government to court, arguing that the law discriminates based on race and that child welfare should be a matter for states and not the federal government to decide.
The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case last November and is expected to rule in the coming weeks.
Remembering fallen Native American service members
May 29 was Memorial Day, a day to remember those Americans who have died serving their country.
Levi Rickert, a citizen of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation in Kansas and founder/editor of Native News Online, marked the occasion by reflecting on Native Americans’ long and proud tradition of military service.
Among those who have paid the ultimate price is U.S. Army Specialist Lori Ann Piestewa, a citizen of the Hopi Nation, who died when her convoy was ambushed in Nasiriyah, Iraq, on March 23, 2003. She is remembered as the first female soldier to die in Iraq and the first Native American woman to die serving her country.
Native Americans and/or Alaska Natives have served in every U.S. war and conflict since the American Revolution, and as Rickert notes, have the highest record of military service per capita of any other racial or ethnic group in the U.S.
U.S. Postal Service commemorates legendary Ponca leader
The U.S. Postal Service has released a postage stamp honoring Ponca Tribe Chief Standing Bear, one of the nation’s most important civil rights figures.
He saw his tribe through their forced removal in 1877 from homelands in Nebraska to Indian Country [present-day Oklahoma]. His daughter Prairie Flower died along the way, and within a year, a third of the tribe died of disease and starvation, including his son Bear Shield, whose dying wish was to be buried back home.
Standing Bear honored that wish but was arrested for leaving Oklahoma. He sued the federal government for his freedom, arguing before the court, “I am a man. The same God made us both."
In a landmark ruling on May 12, 1879, Judge Elmer S. Dundy declared for the first time that an Indian was a person within the meaning of U.S. law and therefore deserved all legal protections.
Learn more in the video below:
Indian? Native American? What to call America’s first peoples?
Oklahoma TV station KSWO this week posed that question to two tribal leaders.
“There’s a lot of terms that have been bounced around, and you’ll never find any universal acceptance from that from anybody because it’s just too complex,” Kiowa Tribe Chairman Lawrence SpottedBird said.
Comanche Nation Vice Chairman Dr. Cornel Pewewardy said he prefers Nʉmʉnʉʉ “the People,” which is what the Comanche people have always called themselves.
But how to refer to America’s original populations generally?
“Indian” was the name that explorer Christopher Columbus gave the people he encountered, assuming he had landed in India. Many Native Americans continue to use the term, as it was the legal term used in treaties with the federal government.
“Indigenous” is a word with different definitions. For some, it refers to an ethnic culture that has never migrated away from its homeland and is neither a settler nor a colonizer.
The United Nations defines “Indigenous” as the descendants of those who inhabited a country or region at the time of conquest or colonization by another group.
And some tribes find the term offensive, believing it carries negative implications.
Several years ago, VOA asked Chase Iron Eyes, a Hunkpapa Lakota activist from the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota.
“Call me whatever you want, as long as you do it with respect,” he answered.
Native American News Roundup May 21-27, 2023
Here are some Native American-related news stories that made headlines this week:
Deb Haaland hears from Northern Arizona tribes
Deb Haaland on Monday became the first U.S. Secretary of the Interior to visit Supai, a remote Havasupai village at the bottom of the Grand Canyon that can only be reached on foot, by horseback or by helicopter.
She was there to discuss plans to connect more than 100 homes and other Havasupai institutions to broadband internet, a project made possible by more than $7 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Act funding.
It was part of a three-day visit to Arizona that included meeting with tribal leaders and environmental groups hoping the Biden administration will designate more than 400,000 hectares of land surrounding the Grand Canyon as a national monument.
Haaland also met with Hopi tribal leaders, announcing $6.6 million in federal infrastructure funding to replace an arsenic-contaminated water system in Keams Canyon, Arizona.
‘Pretendian’ Seattle artist sentenced for violating Indian Arts and Crafts Act
A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced a Seattle artist to 18 months’ probation for violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, a law designed to stop the counterfeiting of Native American art.
Prosecutors say 67-year-old Jerry Chris Van Dyke falsely claimed to be a member of the Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho for 10 years, carving and selling more than $1,000 worth of Aleut-style pendants.
“Prosecuting cases of fraud in the art world is a unique responsibility and part of our work to support Tribal Nations,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Brown. “I hope this case will make artists and gallery owners think twice about the consequences of falsely calling an artist Native and work Native-produced.”
US Border Patrol shoots, kills, Tohono O’odham Tribe member
Family, friends and investigators are demanding answers after U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents shot dead a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation outside of his home in the Menagers Dam community near the U.S.-Mexico border.
An unnamed family member told Tucson’s KVOA TV that ceremony leader Raymond Mattia had called CBP for help, complaining that illegal immigrants had trespassed onto his property.
What happened next is unclear: Family members told the television station that CBP agents opened fire on Mattia as he stood outside his front door.
“Raymond lay in front of his home for seven hours before a coroner arrived from Tucson,” his family said in a statement posted online early Thursday morning.
A CBP statement says agents from the Ajo Border Patrol Station responded to a Tohono O’odham Nation Police Department request for assistance in responding to a call of shots fired west of the Menagers Dam Village. There, the statement says, an individual “threw an object toward the officer as they approached the structure which landed a few feet from the officer’s feet. Shortly after the individual threw the object, he abruptly extended his right arm away from his body and three agents fired their service weapons striking the individual several times.”
The CBP statement says officers requested emergency medical services and that the man was pronounced dead by a physician at St. Mary’s Hospital at 10:06 pm.
The Tohono O’odham Nation, the second-largest reservation in the U.S., straddles the border with Mexico. Tribe members have long complained of aggression and other abuses committed by agents operating in the area. Tribal police and the FBI are looking into the matter.
Historian: Was poisoning of Pamunkey Indians North America’s first war crime?
Smithsonian magazine this week recalls a grim chapter in U.S. colonial history. University of Southern California historian Peter C. Mancall writes about the Second Anglo-European War in which Powhatan Confederacy leader Opechancanough launched a set of surprise attacks on more than 30 English settlements in March 1622, killing nearly 350 settlers.
During the following months, English settlers repeatedly attacked tribal villages, burning crops and stealing food.
In May 1623, British soldiers met with Opechancanough in West Point, Virginia, supposedly to negotiate the release of war prisoners. Instead, they served poisoned wine to about 200 Indians. It is not known how many died; Opechancanough escaped the scene but was later captured and killed.
Google Doodle celebrates photographer, writer and Native activist Barbara May Cameron
Google Doodle this week honored Hunkpapa Lakota photographer, poet, writer and human rights activist Barbara May Cameron, who would have turned 69 on Monday.
Raised on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, Cameron studied photography and film at the American Indian Art Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In 1973, she moved to San Francisco, where she co-founded Gay American Indians, the first group ever dedicated to the rights of LGBTQIA+ Native Americans.
Cameron was also active with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the American Indian AIDS Institute, and she served as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, helping with AIDS and childhood immunization programs.
Cameron died in 2002 at age 47.
New Mexican Spanish, a Unique American Dialect, Survives Mostly in Prayers
On a spring Saturday afternoon, two "hermanos" knelt to pray in the chapel of their Catholic brotherhood of St. Isidore the Farmer, nestled by the pine forest outside this hamlet in a high mountain valley.
Fidel Trujillo and Leo Paul Pacheco's words resounded in New Mexican Spanish, a unique dialect that evolved through the mixing of medieval Spanish and Indigenous forms. The historic, endangered dialect is as central to these communities as their iconic adobe churches, and its best chance of survival might be through faith, too.
"Prayers sung or recited are our sacred heritage," said Gabriel Meléndez, a professor emeritus of American Studies with the University of New Mexico who's also a hermano. "When prayers are said in Spanish, they're stronger. They connect us directly to people who came before us."
Preserved mostly in devotions, particularly in humble "moradas" – as the brotherhoods' chapels are called – built of mud and straw in rural communities across the northern reaches of the state, New Mexican Spanish is different from all other varieties of the language.
"Unlike most other forms of Spanish used in the U.S. today, it's not due to immigration in the last 100 years, but rooted back to the 1500s," said Israel Sanz-Sánchez, a professor of languages at West Chester University in Pennsylvania who has researched the dialect.
Spanish explorers and missionaries first reached these valleys isolated between mountains, deserts and plains at the end of the 16th century. Pushed back south by the Pueblo Native Americans, they resettled a century later – and their language evolved to incorporate not only words carried from medieval Spain but also a mixture of expressions derived from Mexican Spanish, Native forms and eventually some English after the territory became part of the United States.
Removed from the center of political and economic power for centuries, these villages preserved the dialect orally.
"You never heard English here," said Felix López of growing up in the 1950s in Truchas, a ridgetop village between Santa Fe and Taos, where this master "santero" – an artist specializing in devotional art – has been helping preserve the 1760s Holy Mission church.
But by the mid-20th century, the push to promote schooling in English led many educators to correct students who used New Mexican Spanish's idiosyncratic mix of grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary, said Damián Vergara Wilson, a professor of Spanish at the University of New Mexico.
He has been working on teaching Spanish not as foreign but as a heritage language that has developed into something uniquely New Mexican.
It contains some words from medieval Spanish, but it also includes pronunciations that developed in New Mexico's villages and words unique to its geographical and historical place at a crossroads of American civilizations. There are several words for turkey, for instance, including an anglicized one used in the context of Thanksgiving.
With such code-switching sometimes disparaged in education and among the public, younger generations often stick to English only or learn contemporary Spanish, especially as spoken in Mexico, with which the state shares a border. That leads many villagers to worry about being able to preserve New Mexican Spanish.
"The dialect we speak is dying out. We're the last generation that learned it as a first language," said Angelo Sandoval, 45, who serves as the "mayordomo" or caretaker of the 1830s San Antonio Church in Cordova, a village just down the valley from Truchas.
Its best chance for survival is prayer. Traditional devotions have been passed down through generations by hermanos, easily memorized because of their ballad-style rhyming. Sometimes they are transcribed into notebooks called "cuadernos." In an adobe niche in a chapel in Holman, some of the handwritten notebooks are 120 years old.
Even in larger cities, people often request prayers in New Mexican Spanish for special occasions, like rosaries for the deceased or novenas for the holidays.
In Santa Fe, the prayer to the widely venerated statue of Our Lady of Peace contains some of the original Spanish terminology, such as "Sacratisimo Hijo" for the "most holy Son," said Bernadette Lucero, director, curator and archivist for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
A nearly century-old women's folklore society — Sociedad Folklórica de Nuevo México — also regularly practices the dialect for their hymns and nine-day "novenas" prayers to baby Jesus, Lucero added.
In the small town of Bernalillo, where the outskirts of Albuquerque fade into vast mesas, the mayordomos of San Lorenzo also preserve the dialect in their prayers and annual celebrations.
"When we sing an old 'alabado,' we can trace who wrote that," said Santiago Montoya of the Catholic praise (in Spanish, "alabar") hymns that have been passed down through New Mexican brotherhoods.
For 23 years, Montoya and his sister have been the mayordomos of San Lorenzo, a church that was constructed in the mid-19th century with 4-foot-wide adobe walls. The community fought to save it when a bigger, modern church was built next door.
But he's also a "rezador," reciting or singing the rosary — a prayer consisting of sets of Hail Marys called "decades" — which he does in the community and particularly for the deceased. He insists on using New Mexican Spanish even if the families speak only English.
"I tell them, 'I'll do three 'decades' in English, but let's teach the kids,'" Montoya said.
In Cannes, Scorsese and Dicaprio Turn Spotlight Toward Osage Nation
It was well into the process of making "Killers of the Flower Moon" that Martin Scorsese realized it wasn't a detective story.
Scorsese, actor Leonardo DiCaprio and screenwriter Eric Roth had many potential avenues in adapting David Grann's expansive nonfiction history, "Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI." The film that Scorsese and company premiered Saturday at the Cannes Film Festival, however, wasn't like the one they initially set out to make.
The film, which will open in theaters in October, chronicles the series of killings that took place throughout the Osage Nation in 1920s Oklahoma. The Osage were then enormously rich from oil on their land, and many white barons and gangsters alike sought to control and steal their money. Dozens of Osage Native Americans were killed before the FBI, in its infancy, began to investigate.
DiCaprio had originally been cast to star as FBI agent Tom White. But after mulling the project over, Scorsese decided to pivot.
"I said, 'I think the audience is ahead of us,’" Scorsese told reporters Sunday in Cannes. "They know it's not a whodunit. It's a who-didn't-do-it."
The shift, filmmakers said, was largely driven from collaboration with the Osage. Osage Nation Chief Standing Bear, who consulted on the film, praised the filmmakers for centering the story instead on Mollie (Lily Gladstone) and her husband Ernest Burkhart (DiCaprio), the tragic romance at the heart of Scorsese's epic of insidious American ethnic exploitation.
"Early on, I asked Mr. Scorsese, 'How are you going to approach the story? He said I'm going to tell a story about trust, trust between Mollie and Ernest, trust between the outside world and the Osage, and the betrayal of those trusts," said Chief Standing Bear. "My people suffered greatly and to this very day those effects are with us. But I can say on behalf of the Osage, Marty Scorsese and his team have restored trust and we know that trust will not be betrayed."
"Killers of the Flower Moon," the most anticipated film to debut at this year's Cannes, instead became about Ernest, who Scorsese called "the character the least is written about."
DiCaprio, who ceded the character of White to Jesse Plemons, said "Killers of the Flower Moon" reverberates with other only recently widely discussed dark chapters of American history.
"This story, much like the Tulsa massacre, has been something that people have started to learn about and started to understand is part of culture, part of our history," said DiCaprio. "After the screenplay, from almost an anthropological perspective — Marty was there every day — we were talking to the community, trying to hear the real stories and trying to incorporate the truth."
"Killers of the Flower Moon" premiered Saturday to largely rave reviews and thunderous applause nearly 50 years after Scorsese, as a young filmmaker, was a sensation at Cannes. His "Taxi Driver" won the Palme d'Or in 1976.
Among the most-praised performances has been that of Gladstone, the actor of Blackfeet and Nimíipuu heritage.
"These artistic souls on this stage here cared about telling a story that pierces the veil of what society tells us we're supposed to care about and not," said Gladstone, who singled out Scorsese. "Who else is going to challenge people to challenge their own complicity in white supremacy in such a platform except as this man here?"
"We're speaking of the 1920s Osage community. We're talking about Black Wall Street and Tulsa. We're talking about a lot in our film," she continued. "Why the hell does the world not know about these things? Our communities always have. It's so central to everything about how we understand our place in the world."
In the film, Robert De Niro plays a wealthy baron who's particularly adept at plundering the Osage. Speaking Sunday, De Niro was still mulling his character's motivations.
"There's a kind of feeling of entitlement," said De Niro. "It's the banality of evil. It's the thing that we have to watch out for. We see it today, of course. We all know who I'm going to talk about, but I won't say the name. Because that guy is stupid. Imagine if you're smart?"
A minute later, De Niro resumed: "I mean, look at Trump," referring to former President Donald Trump.
With a running time well over three hours and a budget from Apple of $200 million, "Killers of the Flower Moon" is one of Scorsese's largest undertakings. Asked where he gets the gumption for such risks, the 80-year-old director didn't hesitate.
"As far as taking risks at this age, what else can I do?" said Scorsese. "‘No, let's go do something comfortable.’ Are you kidding?"
At Graduations, Native American Students Seek Acceptance of Tribal Regalia
Yanchick settled for beaded earrings to represent her Native American identity at her 2018 graduation.
A bill vetoed earlier this month by Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, would have allowed public school students to wear feathers, beaded caps, stoles or other objects of cultural and religious significance. Yanchick, a citizen of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma and descendent of the Muscogee Nation, said she hopes the legislature tries again.
Being able to "unapologetically express yourself and take pride in your culture at a celebration without having to ask a non-Native person for permission to do so is really significant," said Yanchick, who now works for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma.
For Native American students, tribal regalia is often passed down through generations and worn at graduations to signify connection with the community. Disputes over such attire have spurred laws making it illegal to prevent Indigenous students from wearing regalia in nearly a dozen states including Arizona, Oregon, South Dakota, North Dakota and Washington.
High schools, which often favor uniformity at commencement ceremonies, take a range of approaches toward policing sashes, flower leis and other forms of self-expression. Advocates argue the laws are needed to avoid leaving it up to individual administrators.
Groups like the Native American Rights Fund hear regularly from students blocked from wearing eagle feathers or other regalia. This week in Oklahoma, a Native American high school graduate sued a school district, claiming she was forced her to remove a feather from her cap at a ceremony last spring.
When Jade Roberson graduated from Edmond Santa Fe High School, the same school attended by Yanchick, she would have liked to wear a beaded cap and a large turquoise necklace above her gown. But it didn't seem worth asking. She said a friend was only able to wear an eagle feather because he spoke with several counselors, consulted the principal and received a letter from the Cherokee Nation on the feather's significance.
"It was such a hassle for him that my friends and I decided to just wear things under our gown," said Roberson, who is of Navajo descent. "I think it is such a metaphor for what it is like to be Native."
When Adriana Redbird graduates this week from Sovereign Community School, a charter school in Oklahoma City that allows regalia, she plans to wear a beaded cap and feather given by her father to signify her achievements.
"To pay tribute and take a small part of our culture and bring that with us on graduation day is meaningful," she said.
In his veto message, Stitt said allowing students to wear tribal regalia should be up to individual districts. He said the proposal could also lead other groups to "demand special favor to wear whatever they please" at graduations.
The bill's author, Republican state Rep. Trey Caldwell, represents a district in southwest Oklahoma that includes lands once controlled by Kiowa, Apache and Comanche tribes.
"It's just the right thing to do, especially with so much of Native American culture so centered around right of passage, becoming a man, becoming an adult," he said.
Several tribal nations have called for an override of the veto. Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin said the bill would have helped foster a sense of pride among Native American students. Muscogee Nation Principal Chief David Hill said students who "choose to express the culture and heritage of their respective Nations" are honoring their identity.
It means a lot that the bill was able to garner support and make it to the governor, Yanchick said, but she wishes it wasn't so controversial.
"Native American students shouldn't have to be forced to be activists to express themselves or feel celebrated," she said.