March 28, 2019

American Indian artist wins her challenge to sell award-winning art

Oklahoma City; March 28, 2019: A federal district court in Oklahoma struck a blow against protectionism today in favor of Pacific Legal Foundation client Peggy Fontenot in her challenge to Oklahoma’s restrictive definitions for American Indian artists.

Fontenot challenged an Oklahoma law that allowed only members of federally recognized American Indian tribes to market their art as “American Indian-made.” This was problematic for artists like Fontenot, who are members only of state-recognized tribes or are certified as artisans by a tribe.

“This is a great win for Peggy and all American Indian artists like her,” said PLF attorney Caleb Trotter. “With the court’s decision, it is now clear that states cannot use their laws to play favorites when deciding which American Indian artists can honestly market their work. Now the American Indian art market in Oklahoma can better reflect what Congress intended: a market inclusive of members of federally and state-recognized tribes, as well as certified artisans.”

Oklahoma’s definitions of what constitutes American Indian art threatened Fontenot’s livelihood. Because the definitions were enacted to benefit members of politically connected tribes in the state, PLF challenged the constitutionality of the law, arguing that it impermissibly conflicted with a federal law intended to foster the national American Indian art market.

Indeed, the federal law was specifically intended to include members of state-recognized tribes and certified artisans like Fontenot. Fortunately, the court agreed that Oklahoma cannot enshrine favoritism into its definitions for American Indian artists.

Read more about the case at www.pacificlegal.org/fontenot

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