Washington, D.C. – Native American artists are voicing their concerns over the theft of their work, prompting tribal leaders to urge Congress to strengthen the Indian Arts and Crafts Act (IACA). The act, passed in 1990, was designed to prohibit the sale and advertisement of counterfeit Indian arts and crafts. However, with the rise of online sales, artists argue that the legislation needs to be updated.
D.G. Smalling, an artist from the Choctaw Nation, highlights the need for adaptation to address evolving challenges in buying and selling art through digital platforms. “We have just a very different kind of engagement with intellectual property now,” Smalling stated, emphasizing the importance of protecting his creations.
During Cherokee Days in Washington, D.C., this spring, Cherokee Nation Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. called on Congress to bolster the IACA. Working alongside lawmakers on proposed Amendments to Respect Traditional Indigenous Skill and Talent Act (ARTIST Act) of 2023, Hoskin aims to increase protections for Indian arts and crafts.
Hoskin noted that discussions with congressional members are forthcoming: “We haven’t engaged the delegation just yet…The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs is where this matter sits at the moment.” He highlighted the role of Chairman Brian Schatz and ranking member Sen. Lisa Murkowski in soliciting input on the ARTIST Act.
The proposed legislation seeks to enhance safeguards for indigenous artwork while imposing stricter penalties on counterfeit goods’ sellers and manufacturers. Non-Native American artists often recreate these items or reproduce them on various products like portraits, shirts, mugs, and online stores worldwide.
In a letter dated March 29 addressed to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Hoskin emphasized that protecting genuine Cherokee artists requires modifying existing laws: “The law must be changed in order to protect actual Cherokee artists…and ensure their arts and crafts are the only works permitted to be presented as Cherokee.”
Supporting Hoskin’s efforts, Smalling emphasized the need to adapt the law to cover digital and traditional art forms comprehensively. He also expressed solidarity with tribal leaders seeking to defend their cultural identity.
As Native American artists demand greater protection for their work, Congress faces mounting pressure to strengthen the IACA and prevent further theft of indigenous arts and crafts.