The Indian Arts and Crafts Act (Act) of 1990 (P.L. 101-644) is a truth-in-advertising law that prohibits misrepresentation in the marketing of Indian arts and crafts products within the United States.  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.  For a first time violation of the Act, an individual can face civil or criminal penalties up to a $250,000 fine or a 5-year prison term, or both.  If a business violates the Act, it can face civil penalties or can be prosecuted and fined up to $1,000,000.

Under the Act, an Indian is defined as a member of any federally or officially State recognized tribe of the United States, or an individual certified as an Indian artisan by an Indian tribe.

The law covers all Indian and Indian-style traditional and contemporary arts and crafts produced after 1935.  The Act broadly applies to the marketing of arts and crafts by any person in the United States.  Some traditional items frequently copied by non-Indians include Indian-style jewelry, pottery, baskets, carved stone fetishes, woven rugs, kachina dolls, and clothing.

All products must be marketed truthfully regarding the tribal enrollment of the producers so as not to mislead the consumer.  It is illegal to market art or craftwork using the name of a tribe if a member, or certified Indian artisan, of that tribe did not actually create the art or craftwork.

For example, products sold using a sign claiming “Indian Jewelry” would be a violation of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act if the jewelry was produced by someone other than a member, or certified Indian artisan, of an Indian tribe.  Products advertised as “Navajo Jewelry” would be in violation of the Act if they were produced by someone who is not a member, or certified Indian artisan, of the Navajo tribe.

Before buying Indian art and craftwork online, at powwows, annual fairs, juried competitions, and other events, check the website policy page or event vendor requirements regarding the authenticity of products being offered for sale.  Many events list the requirements online, in media advertisements, promotional flyers, and printed programs.  If the event organizers make no statements on compliance with the Act or on the authenticity of art and craftwork offered by participating vendors, you should obtain written verification from the individual vendors that their Indian art or craftwork was produced by tribal members or by certified Indian artisans.

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