ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. Two Western senators are throwing their support behind a measure that would crack down on the sale of fake Indian arts and crafts.
New Mexico Republican Pete Domenici is co-sponsoring the bill of fellow Republican Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado to make it easier for Indian artisans to stop fraudulent representation of their work.
The Indian Arts and Crafts Enforcement Act of 2000 has passed the Senate Indian Affairs Committee although whether it can work its way through the rest of the congressional process before Congress adjourns this fall is questionable.
"Tourists have been duped," Domenici said. "Instead of natural wool and dyes, a rug might be a synthetic fiber. Nickel is substituted for silver. Plastic takes the place of turquoise."
Domenici said the legislation sends a message to the people who misrepresent and manufacture fake goods and makes it more likely they will be caught and fined by giving Indians greater access to the courts.
Federal law requires all imported Indian-style jewelry and crafts to be permanently stamped with its country of origin to protect genuine Indian arts and crafts.
The legislation improves chances for prosecution and extends the law's reach beyond the retailer to the wholesaler and manufacturer.
It also allows Indian arts and crafts organizations and individual Indians, in addition to tribes, to sue for violations of law.
New Mexico's Isleta Pueblo has seen the number of full-time artists drop from 150 to 30 in the past 50 years, Isleta sculptor Andy Abeita told senators during recent hearings on the matter.
"Import fakes and mechanically cast pottery and jewelry is now often being sold to the unsuspecting consumer as Indian handmade," Abeita said. "This threat has made it almost impossible to compete fairly in the commercial marketplace, forcing generations of potters and silversmiths to discontinue the trade."
Domenici's office said trade groups estimate that half of all Indian arts and crafts on sale in the United States today are not authentic. Copies are not illegal, but they must be represented as imitations.