Below are exerpts from a piece recently published on The Discourse.
Through intense investigation, and sometimes facing horrific apathy from business owners, Francesca Fionada highlights the practice of commodifying a culture.
Undercover agents, search warrants and traceable forensic ink — all part of a multi-year investigation that ultimately busted an international crime ring moving millions of dollars of fraudulent goods into parts of New Mexico and California. So far, the investigation has put two men in prison and handed down thousands of dollars in fines.
In my own community, local Indigenous artisans sell their work on the street, in cafes, and occasionally in shops. The average settler Canadian is put off and quite rude when approached for purchase, but has little to no problem obstaining knock offs like these from the local souvenier shop to take home to loved ones.
The goods in question? Fake Indigenous art.
Selling fraudulent Indigenous art is illegal in the U.S. under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, and is punishable by up to five years in jail and a $250,000 fine for an individual — or up to $1 million for a company. Though jail time is rare, for the first time ever a man was sentenced to six months in prison and had to pay nearly $10,000 in fines in August 2018 for his part in a multimillion dollar scheme to import Navajo-themed turquoise jewellery made overseas — and sell it as authentic Navajo art.
I remember being gifted a large ornate dream catcher for high school graduation back in 2005. A white person purchased it from what’s best described as a drug store. It had a made in China sticker on the tag. They never understood why I was disgusted. And I mean disgusted. I was beyond offended. Purchasing a knock off of a segment of Indigenous identity (as a white person) to give as a gift to another Indigenous person (who’s culture IS NOT THE SAME) is rude and insensitive.
A second man was sentenced a few months earlier to two days in jail and had to pay $500 for his lesser role in the operation.
“This landmark investigation has brought much needed attention to the rampant problem of counterfeit Native American jewelry and art in the marketplace,” said Edward Grace, the acting assistant director of one of the U.S. law enforcement teams that led the investigation, in an August 2018 press release.
In my opinion, this goes beyond cultural appropriation and government officials need to do SOMETHING in effort to protect Indigenous art and artists.
“We hope today’s sentencings will deter others who would seek to defraud consumers and undermine Native American artists,” he added.
In Canada, no such law exists against misrepresenting inauthentic Indigenous-themed items as real — and tourist shops across the country are rife with fake Indigenous pieces.
I highly recommend reading the entirety of the article, the link is included at the end of my post. Please share the original article far and wide—note, everything in italics are Francesca’s words and I do not take credit in any way for her hard work. I am merely reflecting and giving the article a signal boost from this platform.