Amendments toughen anti-fraud arts and crafts law

By Sue Major Holmes
Zuni, New Mexico (AP) September 2010

Zuni silversmith Tony Eriacho wants to educate the public about American Indian jewelry and crafts that aren’t what they seem.

At a recent Zuni arts and crafts show in New Mexico, he showed visitors Indian-style fetish animals made in the Philippines; colored stones that were really made of plastic; and dust of turquoise and other rocks glued together to look like solid turquoise.

What bothers Eriacho is that such items often are fraudulently marketed as authentic, Indian-made goods - which violates federal law.

Congress this summer passed amendments to the 1990 Indian Arts and Crafts Act aimed at cracking down on sellers who falsely suggest their goods are Indian- or Alaska Native-made.

The revisions allow all federal law enforcement officers to investigate suspected violations.

Before, only FBI agents could investigate.

 Tips for buying American Indian arts and crafts - With: BC-NM-Policing Indian Arts

Tips for buying American Indian arts and crafts from the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office and the Indian Arts and Crafts Board of the U.S. Department of the Interior:

- When buying from a dealer, choose one with a good reputation.

- Request a written verification of authenticity.

- Get a receipt that includes all the vital information about your purchase, including price, maker and maker’s tribal affiliation.

- Familiarize yourself with the different materials used in American Indian arts and crafts, and know the indicators of a well-made, handcrafted piece.

- Realize that authentic, handmade pieces may be expensive. If a price seems too good to be true, be sure to ask more questions about the item and its maker.

A look at some materials used in Indian jewelry - With: BC-NM-Policing Indian Arts

A look at materials that may be present in American Indian and Indian-style jewelry:

- Natural materials: Stones that have not been color-enhanced, stabilized or altered, other than being cut, shaped and polished.

- Stabilized materials: Low-grade material that’s injected with resins, epoxies or dyes to enhance the base material, such as low-grade turquoise that’s as soft as chalk.

- Manmade materials: Stones grown in a lab, such as manmade opals, pearls, rubies or diamonds.

- Block: Basically plastic manufactured of epoxies, resins and dyes, sometimes with a crushed stone filler added.

- Sterling silver or .925 silver: Silver that is 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent other metals; sterling polishes to a brighter shine than nickel silver.

- Nickel or German silver: A combination of nickel and zinc that has no silver.

- Cabs and inserts: Pre-made settings in a variety of shapes and sizes, available at supply houses. They may be filled with real materials and/or plastic.