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Opinion: Congress mucked up Indian Arts and Crafts

"A Southern Utah jeweler is in trouble with the American Indians. He has spent much of his work life employing Navajo and Hopi artisans and buying their jewelry. In fact, he estimates that about 100 Native American families earn their living through the work he supplies. But now some members of the Ho-Chunk Indian tribe of Wisconsin are suing him in federal court in Chicago, invoking a law known as the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.

His offense? He is accused (falsely) to have advertised a doll on the Internet whose manufacturers in China made the mistake of calling it an Indian doll. He is also falsely accused of selling inauthentic Navajo, Hopi and Zuni products but which, in fact, were actually made by members of these tribes.

Under IACA, any Indian may sue anybody who advertises products in a manner that falsely suggests they are made by Indians. IACA imposes a $1,000 penalty per offense. Every day of advertising is a separate offense even if the retailer truly believes the product is genuine Indian. Thus, the liability exposure is $365,000 per year for every product advertised.

After the Ho-Chunks bought a product over the Internet, their lawyer lay in wait for three years before suing so that they could maximize their profits. Therefore, the one product, named Indian Doll but clearly labeled "made in China," gives rise to a claim of more than $1 million. This law and its severe penalties have been upheld as Constitutional by the federal courts in Illinois."

Get the Story:
Bryce Dixon: Jeweler paying for inept meddling by U.S. Congress (The St. George Spectrum 6/2)

Inspector General Report:
Indian Arts and Crafts: A Case of Misrepresentation (June 2005

FY2007 Budget Request:
Bureau of Indian Affairs Budget | Departmental Offices [includes Office of Special Trustee]

FY2007 Budget Documents:
Fulfilling Trust Responsibilities | Serving Tribal Communities | Protecting Lives, Resources, and Property [includes Safety in Indian Country] | Budget in Brief | Interior Department [from the White House]

Relevant Links:
Indian Arts and Crafts Board -

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