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It would be ludicrous to assume that everyone in living history who makes and sells Indian-style crafts is an enrolled tribal member.  Anyone who has been part of this hobby for long can attest to the fact that a high percentage of the craftsmen turning out Indian clothing and accoutrements are of totally Euro-American ancestry.  I say this not to demean such crafters or to detract from the artistic validity or historicity of their work, but to point out a fact – the fact, actually, which is at the heart of this article’s concern.


The “Casual Crafter” is the person who loves the laid back buck skinner rendezvous and “dabbles” in Indian style crafts like buckskin clothes, leather pouches, loom beaded pieces, beaded earrings, dream catchers, etc.  Some of these items will find their way into a rendezvous trade blanket, perhaps beneath a little sign that read “Indian Dream Catchers $4.00.”  According to Public Law 101-644, if the Casual Crafter who made those dream catchers isn’t an enrolled tribal member, he or she cannot legally use the term “Indian” in conjunction with the sale of the crafts.  They have displayed their wares for sale in a manner that ignorantly, yet falsely suggests that they were bona fide Indian items.  I doubt such misrepresentation was done to deliberately deceive buyers, but perpetrated out of ignorance.  Casual Crafters must realize that a little sign reading “Indian Dream Catchers” could be interpreted as a statement of the items authorship, not just “style.”  Public Law 101-644 makes it illegal to sell any item claiming Indianness, when there is none.


The hobbyist is a serious devotee and researcher of Native American culture.  Depending on who is talking, hobbyists may also be called “reenactors” or “authenticity fanatics!”  Although their life in simulated Indian encampments is limited to weekends and summer vacations, the hobbyists’ “Indian-ness” can extend to their daily lives, thoughts, and religious beliefs.  Hobbyists, who are found throughout the world, create a diverse array of extremely historic looking Indian-style goods, including beaded dresses and shirts, moccasins, quillwork, cradleboards, bow quivers, parfleches, and knife sheathes.  Most hobbyists make the items for their own personal enrichment and /or use.  However, it is not unusual to see some of these items for sale at powwows or on dealers’ tables at larger living history shows.  Due to their excellent craftsmanship, such items generally attract a lot of attention.  If they are authentic representations of a historic tribal style, they might sport price tags labeling them as a “Sioux beaded dress,” “Cheyenne knife sheath,” or “Comanche moccasins,” etc.

What about these “tribal” labels?  Does “Comanche Moccasins” mean moccasins made by a member of the Comanche tribe, or only a pair of moccasins tailored and adorned in the Comanche Style?  According to Richard W. Edwards, Emeritur Professor of Law at the University of Toledo College of Law, Toledo, Ohio, “in our society at the present time…tribal words when applied to art done in the traditional manner…are generally understood to be words of authorship and not just words of ‘style’.”  In other words, “Comanche moccasins” is understood to mean, “moccasins made by a Comanche.”  If the hobbyist who produced the moccasins was not an enrolled member of the Comanche tribe, he could not legally apply the tribal name to the sale description.  Just as with items sold by the Casual Crafter, Public Law 101-644 and other similar legislation makes it illegal for the hobbyist to sell any item claiming Indianness, when there is none.


The final group of non-Indian crafters who might be directly affected by Indian arts and crafts legislation are paid professionals including artisans and merchants.  The emergence of the professional non-Native craftsman is relatively new, and stems from the valid need for both restoration and reproduction of artifacts.

Why is there a need for hard-to-tell-from-the-original reproductions of Native American cultural artifacts? “Reproductions” are created for many legitimate scientific reasons, and among these are an understanding of technology, manufacturing techniques, and stylistic traditions.



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