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Artist who falsely claimed Native American heritage sentenced to 18 months probation

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Jerry Chris Van Dyke, an artist who sold sculptures in Seattle under the name Jerry Witten and claimed to be Native American, was sentenced to 18 months of federal probation.

Van Dyke, who is not enrolled in any recognized tribe or nation and has no indigenous heritage, violated the Indian Arts and Crafts Act (IACA), a federal truth in marketing law administered by the Indian Arts and Crafts Board to protect the rights and livelihoods of Native American artists. He pleaded guilty in March for misrepresenting goods and products made in India, and had faced up to a year in prison.

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB) was first notified that Van Dyke was selling his work while claiming to be a member of the federally recognized Nez Perce Tribe, whose lands are in present-day Idaho. Undercover U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents then purchased works by Van Dyke from a gallery in Seattle’s popular Pike Place Market, where his pieces were advertised as the work of a Native American artist named Jerry Witten.

“Prosecuting art fraud cases is a unique responsibility and part of our work to support tribal nations,” Nick Brown, a U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington, said in a statement. statement. “I hope this case will make artists and gallery owners think twice about the consequences of falsely labeling an artist as Indigenous and creating work produced by Indigenous people. They should factor in reputational damage, legal fees and ultimately a criminal record. Van Dyke was originally loaded end of 2021with fellow Washington-based artist Lewis Anthony Rath.

Two works of art incorrectly advertised as Native American art by Jerry Chris Van Dyke U.S. Attorney’s Office, Western District of Washington

When questioned, Van Dyke admitted that he had done the work, had no tribal affiliations, and was aware of the IACA. Under the terms of a plea agreement, he admitted that he had worked with the gallery for more than a decade and that his owner had even provided him with materials, including antlers, bones, woolly mammoth ivory and fossilized walrus ivory. Van Dyke used these and other materials to make masks and pendants in the style of the indigenous peoples of the Aleutian Islands of northern Alaska and the Bering Sea.

Van Dyke allegedly sold fake Native galleries for more than $1,000 through the Pike Place Market gallery, which was not named in the U.S. attorney’s office announcement regarding the sentencing.

“The prosecution of Jerry Van Dyke under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act for infringement of Alaska Native art is another crucial step in protecting the economic livelihoods and rich cultural heritage of Indian artists. contemporary and traditional, as well as in preserving the vitality of Indian art. market in the Northwest and across the country,” IACB director Meredith Stanton said in a statement.

The IACA was signed into law by President George HW Bush in 1990 to prevent precisely the type of marketing and sale of non-Native artifacts that Van Dyke was making and selling. In doing so, he aimed to protect the livelihoods of Native American artists and to inspire confidence in the Native art market in the United States.

Brown added, “Fake Indigenous art should be kept out of the market because it harms the legitimate Indigenous art community.”

Aboriginal artists in Canada are calling for the creation of similar legislation in this country, which currently has few means to regulate the market for objects marketed and sold as being the work of First Nations.

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