Aang! Alqutaltxin? Hi! How are you? I’m LOVING this Spring weather- back to my beloved barefooted-ness and flip-flops!
Did you see our post about cultural appropriation? If not, you can read it here, it’s super important to understand why it’s harmful to indigenous people! One of the worst things people do is to not only appropriate Native cultural practices, images, and items, but to sell these things and profit off of them.
This type of atrocity can range from a non-Native selling a teepee print top, which while not illegal, is still in poor taste and offensive; to flat out violating the law. Did you know that a non-Native selling “Native” items is an actual felony? Sadly, not many people know this, and a lot of people get scammed into buying a “Native” item from a European settler or other non-Native trying to profit.
In today’s capitalist free-market society, there’s a flood of such items. For example, there are listings on eBay for “Native American beaded earrings,” but the seller/maker is in China. eBay does not permit non-Natives to use the words “Native American” in their listings- not even “Native American style.” The two words cannot be used together unless the maker is actually Native. But… that’s not what ends up happening…
So, how do you tell the difference? How do you know if an item is actually Native-made? Despite the sites’ policies, I’ve often heard people mention to only buy from sites such as Etsy or eBay, where there are policies against non-Natives selling these items. The problem is that there’s such a flood of misrepresented products, that the sites cannot keep up. While there are reporting procedures, eBay can take months to “catch up,” meaning an item often sells before their trust and safety department even takes a look at a listing to remove it. I’ve reported multiple items to Etsy, to no avail, so I’m guessing they’re also either behind or just don’t take action.
This doesn’t mean you can’t get really great Native-made items online, though! You just have to know what to look for. By law, an actual Native-made item has to have the name of the Nation/Tribe/Band, etc., that the artist belongs to. I recently saw a pair of earrings on eBay, where the seller specifically said “Cherokee ancestry” for the Tribe section. No actual Native would put something like this. This is more than likely someone who is relying on family lore of having a long-lost great-grandma who was a “Cherokee princess.”
An actual, real Native doesn’t just claim ancestry or descent, they state that they themselves are actually Native. For example, I don’t say that my grandpa or grandma were Native- I say “I AM UNANGAX AND ST’AT’IMC.” Different Natives have different preferences, of course, as some Unangan may prefer to say they’re “Aleut,” which is the English name. Some members of the St’at’imc Nation refer to themselves as being from the “Lillooet Tribe.” But the common factor is an actual Native owns it- they don’t just claim to have a Native ancestor.
On Etsy, there are, indeed, some fab Native craftspeople and “shops,”- one of my faves, Ora Louise Jewelry, is owned by Hillary Frost of The Southern Ute Tribe, with her boutique being named after the matriarchs in her family. If you visit her Etsy store, you’ll see that her items listed actually say “Native American crafted,” “Native American handcrafted,” etc., and mention the name of the group the maker is a part of.
Another often faked genre of Native art is silver and turquoise jewelry. The Navajo are renowned for their craftsmanship and high quality jewelry- which is why there are so many copies out there. When I lived in Las Vegas, there were SO many tourist shops selling items that were purportedly “Native.” But, there was recently a big sting operation where items made in the Phillipines were being sold as Native American, for many years. So, I avoid these types of mass resellers. Uggghhh…
Always make sure to buy these pieces from a reputable artist. Do your research, check with other buyers, you can even contact the artist if you’d like. Reputable artists are fairly easy to find on social media- just search the hash tags #BuyNative, #NativeAmerican, or anything pertaining to what you’re looking for.
One of my fave Diné aritsts, Tyler Nez, can be found on Instagram at ty_nez_jewelry. If you visit his profile, you’ll see that he has his Tribal affiliation clearly stated. You can also click to view photos where he’s tagged, and see other buyers and read what they have to say about his pieces.
When you search Tyler Nez’s profile, you’ll find many people, including other Natives, speaking very highly of him and his work. If he wasn’t an authentic Native artisan, he wouldn’t have such a good reputation, especially with the indigenous community. You definitely need to check him out- his pieces are GORGEOUS!
You can also check social media groups and pages for Native crafts. As an Alaska Native, I really enjoy a Facebook group called Athabascan Showcase– it’s a closed group, so you need to “ask” to join, but there are a lot of great Alaska Natives selling handmade items such as jewelry, bead work, moccasins, etc. I’ve also found that a lot of people just use word-of-mouth and ask around when they’re wanting to buy or sell. And again, you can always search the hash tags I mentioned earlier.
The bottom line is to do your research carefully before making a purchase. When you buy “Native style” or copycat items, it harms indigenous people. When you #BuyNative, you know you’re getting a high quality, authentic item crafted with care and attention to detail. You’re also helping the artist to stay connected with her or his ancestors and culture. <3
Qagaasakuq! Thank you!
*Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.