January 5, 2017

Oklahoma officials agree to stay enforcement of unconstitutional American Indian art law

By Caleb R. Trotter Attorney

There’s some great news out of Oklahoma to announce. Oklahoma officials have agreed to (and the Court has signed off on) a stipulation to stay enforcement of Oklahoma’s American Indian Arts and Crafts Sales Act while PLF’s challenge to the law is pending. If you’ll recall, in November PLF challenged that law on behalf of award-winning American Indian artist Peggy Fontenot in federal court in Oklahoma. What this stipulation means is that while the case moves forward, Ms. Fontenot and every other American Indian artist in compliance with the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act may market and describe their art as American Indian-made just as they were before the unconstitutional Oklahoma law was enacted last year.

The Attorney General’s office deserves credit and thanks for being willing to stipulate to the stay, so thank you. The case will continue, however, to seek a permanent vindication of the constitutional rights of American Indian artists who work in Oklahoma. In the meantime, though, we’ll celebrate this small win for artists, art lovers, and the Constitution.

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Fontenot v. Hunter, Attorney General of Oklahoma

Peggy Fontenot is an award-winning American Indian photographer and artist, specializing in hand-made beaded jewelry and cultural items. A member of Virginia’s Patawomeck tribe, she has made her living for 30 years traveling the country to show and sell her American Indian art. She regularly participated in Oklahoma art festivals until local, politically-connected tribes convinced the state legislature to restrict the definition of “Indian tribe” to include only those tribes recognized by the federal government. The restriction was ostensibly to prevent the marketing and sale of art fraudulently described as “American Indian-made.” However, as a result of this law, Ms. Fontenot – a legitimate member of a state-recognized tribe – may no longer truthfully describe her art as “American Indian-made” in the state of Oklahoma.

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