Indian Arts and Craft Act protects Native Americans art

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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA TV) - Tourism is in full swing here in KOTA territory and if you’re in the market for Native American arts and crafts, just make sure what your buying is authentic.

“Some folks don’t care when they purchase things whether they are authentic Native made or not, they appreciate it for what it is, what it looks like, for what they want for their home, whatever,” said Jace DeCory, assistant professor of American Indian Studies at Black Hills State University. “That’s not what is of concern to them.”

There are over 70,000 Native Americans in South Dakota, with one Native American reservation being the second largest in the nation. It is no surprise to see tourists buying Native American arts and crafts at places like Crazy Horse Memorial or Prairie Edge.

"A majority of income, especially on the reservation, house hold income comes from arts and crafts, some sort of art form,” said Mary Bordeaux, museum curator at Crazy Horse Memorial, “not just crafts but all kinds of art, both contemporary, historical things like that."

Since there are a large number of Native Americans that are making a living based off their art and craft, a federal law was passed to protect their art.

"The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 is a federal truth in advertising law that prohibits the display for sale or the actual sale of any art or craft that is being marketed as Indian made,” said Conor McMahon, chief curator, Sioux Indian Museum, Indian Arts and Crafts Board, “unless it is actually made by an Indian as defined under the act."

The act defines “Indian” as being an enrolled member of a federally or state recognized tribe.

"The Indian Arts and Crafts act I think was developed to protect native artists, to help native artists, give them the credit due that they deserve,” said DeCory.

“The arts and crafts act was definitely made to protect Indian artists, this isn’t about getting rich. It’s just not about that for the artist,” said Dan Tribby, general manager at Prairie Edge. “It’s about giving them a fair shot in the market, if that adds dollars to their bottom line, then that artist can be more successful, then that is a great thing.”

The Native arts and crafts industry nationally, is estimated to be a billion dollar business but imitation art being mass produced here and abroad is flooding the market, thus affecting Native American artists and crafters.

“We take pride in each and every piece. So when we sell our work, then we want to make a profit of course just like anyone else,” said Lorri Ann Two Bulls, an Oglala Lakota artist, “but when you get these other people that copy other people’s work, and I’m not saying that they do that to me, but I do see it happening, it kind of under sales us and it hurts out profits for the year.”

“There is ongoing legal action against several gentlemen in New
Mexico who were indicted in federal court for selling counterfeit Filipino jewelry as Native American Jewelry,” said McMahon.

What should you do if you think if you didn’t purchase an authentic Native American art or craft? Just ask.

“Ask us and just feel good about who you’re buying the art from,” said Tribby, “and what that artwork is.”

“A genuine artist will always be happy to answer questions about their tribal affiliation their tribal enrollment,” said McMahon.

For more information on the Indian Arts and Crafts Act or to report non authentic art, visit

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