Steve Russell: Intellectual property under Indian Arts and Crafts
"I’ve been having conversations with an Indian who is rightly concerned about a self-identified “Mohawk” with no tribal ties making a career out of selling fake indigenous artistic sensibility. I suppose the good news is that we are long past the time when the dominant culture would scoff at Indian intellectual property claims by arguing that Indians can’t produce intellectual property.

The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 is a splendid law dealing with a whole other area of exploitation, the proverbial “Hopi kachina” made in Taiwan or “Zuni fetish” from Hong Kong. IACA has the most robust remedies I’ve seen in a federal consumer law.

And it is a consumer law. It protects tribes from having certain cultural items misrepresented, but it also protects the people who want to buy Indian designed and Indian-produced arts and crafts.

Anybody can visit Palo Duro Canyon, since it’s a park now, and paint a portrait of Coyote howling in front of some recognizable rock. Palo Duro has a significance to the history of the Kiowa and Comanche peoples who once controlled the Southern Plains and some people believe that a Kiowa or Comanche artist might have more to say through the image of Coyote in that place. Other people think that all portraits of Coyote are the same and to claim otherwise is intellectual gibberish.

My purpose is not to take sides in artistic issues but rather to say that those who think a Kiowa or Comanche person brings something special to depicting Palo Duro and are willing to pay for that unique contribution of blood memory have a right to be certain that they are not being fooled about the fact of the tribal connection.

IACA contains both criminal and civil penalties but it is a pipe dream to think U.S. attorney offices will ever line up to prosecute on the criminal side of the docket while dealing with the “wars” on drugs and terrorism. The civil side is an untapped gold mine."

Get the Story:
Steve Russell: The difference between things and performances (Indian Country Today 9/22)

Related Stories:
Steve Russell: Iroquois Nationals took one for all of Indian Country (9/6)
Steve Russell: Indian mother takes on county over inmate suicide (8/6)
Steve Russell: Brown people should stay away from Arizona (5/24)
Steve Russell: Don't head to Arizona without your 'papers' (4/28)
Steve Russell: Tribes stronger standing together (11/13)
Steve Russell: Women behind all life's successes (10/15)
Steve Russell: Tribal governments must step up (7/3)
Steve Russell: Support for Native Hawaiians (6/16)
Steve Russell: Fighting the fake Indians in tribal court (6/5)
Steve Russell: Ward Churchill faces a third jury (5/28)
Steve Russell: Advice for a younger version of me (3/27)
Steve Russell: Accepting Obama on tribalism (2/27)
Steve Russell: Indian Country ripe for change (12/30)
Steve Russell: Indians slighted in every election (9/19)
Steve Russell: Being indigenous good for the fakers (9/5)
Steve Russell: Everybody knows everything (8/1)
Steve Russell: Family violence docket an ugly one (6/27)
Steve Russell: The Indian view on climate change (5/30)
Steve Russell: Odds and ends and current events (4/21)
Steve Russell: Addressing ethnic frauds (4/4)
Steve Russell: Struggles in an Indian education (3/14)
Steve Russell: Cherokee Nation and assimilation (2/29)
Steve Russell: Cherokee Nation breaks its word (2/8)
Steve Russell: Indian voters a voice for change (2/1)
Steve Russell: The Indian law Hall of Shame (1/11)
Steve Russell: Social capital in Indian Country (12/28)
Steve Russell: Cherokee constitutional crisis (12/14)
Steve Russell: The price of 'sovereignty' (11/23)
Steve Russell: Getting along in Indian Country (11/9)
Steve Russell: Life lessons from a poker game (10/26)