Monday, July 6, 2009

Native American Art and Etsy

Because I am a person who has proven ancestors on the rolls of the Cherokee Nation, Cherokee art interests me. I thought I would search Etsy and see how many Cherokee artists were listing items there. I thought since the site is respected as handmade and supposedly is in support of artists, it would be leading the charge against frauds and copycats in the world of craftsmen and artisans. Boy was I wrong! Not only is there blatant copyright infringement taking place, there is also a large number of resellers (someone who does not make items handmade but purchases in large quantity and then resells as if they made it). These people are often even featured on the front page and in the gift guide sections! Hmm................

But, back to my research on sellers listing handmade items as "Cherokee" either in their description or in their search tags. When I entered "Cherokee" as my search word for the handmade section, I got 157 hits. Not all were incorrectly labeled, but many were. And others were obviously using the word "Cherokee" as the name of their item because it probably makes it sell better. For example, in just the first two pages of my search, I found 8 items that were named Cherokee. Several sellers name pieces of their jewelry that and one artist who works in nudes named her art that. Even though their use of the word irritates me, I know we can't do much about it.

Then, there are sellers who use their tags, which are used in searches, both on Etsy and Google, incorrectly by listing Cherokee as a tag. One of the most interesting, in my opinion, was a seller of felted baby booties that she tagged as Cherokee. I guess she thinks there is a long line of Cherokee people out there looking for felted baby booties for their children! Why else would she use such a tag? The booties sure didn't look Cherokee or even American Indian style to me.

Then, we have the people (who I personally think are crossing the legal line) who list their items to make it seem as if they are Indian made. One seller makes baskets and lists them as "Eastern Cherokee baskets" in the title, but then in the description, says their baskets are inspired by the Indians of the Southwest. Two other sellers speak of their Cherokee ancestry in their bios and how it inspires them to make what I call "Indian looking" art. They use the names like KickingWolf and KiowaBear (not their real names.....) but never talk in their bio about tribal registration. My thought is if you are tribally registered and are trying to sell Indian art, it is something you would mention. Maybe not, but if I were wanting to back up my claims and reassure my customers that what they are getting is authentic, I would state it. I am not sure if these people know, but they may be in violation of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990. And that the selling of art and labeling it in such a way as to lead the buyer to believe it is "Indian" made is a federal crime punishable by hefty fines and jail time.

So, back to my thoughts that Etsy is not too concerned about all this. I have flagged some of these items and asked for them to be reviewed. It didn't seem to matter because the items are all still there and the sellers seem to be going strong. So, it seems to me, that even though Etsy tries to give off a respectable impression that it is all about art and artists, it isn't. Seems to be more like Etsy doesn't care how or what methods are used for selling something as long as they get their cut in the end. Pretty sad that they, like many others, don't mind making a buck off of fraudulent, so called, Indian art.

Even though Etsy doesn‘t seem to care, there is something we can do to stop the violation of the 1990 Indian Arts and Craft Act. That is reporting it to the Indian Arts and Crafts Board in Washington, DC, who will investigate, inform the perpetrators of their violation and demand a cease and desist. If they refuse, the IACA will request prosecution by the FBI and the Commerce Department. Since Etsy is making money from this fraudulent art, they are as guilty as the frauds they allow to sell it. Hopefully they will come to their senses and stop allowing this to happen. If not, I guess they can be reported right along with the artists.

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