January 05, 2017

Oklahoma restrictions on American Indian artists’ rights put on hold

OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA; January 5, 2017:  In a court-approved stipulated agreement, Oklahoma officials agreed this week to stay enforcement of Oklahoma’s American Indian Arts and Crafts Sales Act.  This restrictive law forbids American Indian artists from describing their work as “American Indian-made” unless they are members of a select group of specified tribes that enjoy the state’s favor.  The stay on enforcement will continue while Pacific Legal Foundation’s constitutional challenge to the law proceeds.

The controversial law requires that in order to market artwork as “American Indian-made,” an artist must belong to a tribe recognized by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.  This excludes scores of tribes that enjoy recognition by states across the country.  Further, it contradicts the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act, which defines “Indian” artists to include artisans who are members of either state- or federally recognized tribes, or who are certified by tribes.

This past November, PLF filed a federal civil rights lawsuit challenging the law on behalf of Peggy Fontenot, an award-winning, nationally renowned American Indian artist.  She is harmed by the law because she belongs to a state-recognized tribe — the Patawomecks, a historic tribe that is one of 11 recognized by Virginia.

“This stipulation is an encouraging development as we prosecute our challenge to Oklahoma’s restrictive and unjust law,” said PLF attorney Caleb R. Trotter.  “What this stipulation means is that while the case moves forward, Peggy 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 free to do before the unconstitutional Oklahoma law was enacted last year.

“The Oklahoma Attorney General’s office deserves credit and thanks for being willing to stipulate to the stay,” Trotter continued.  “PLF and Peggy Fontenot will not relent, however, in litigating for a permanent vindication of the constitutional rights of all American Indian artists who work in Oklahoma.

“In the meantime, we will celebrate this small but tangible win for artists, art lovers, and the Constitution,” he said.

Case Documents

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About Pacific Legal Foundation

Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 39 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 12 victories out of 14 cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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