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Indian Arts And Crafts Act - Understanding What It Means

In summary, the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990:

  • Makes it illegal to sell goods as 'Indian' or 'Native American' if they are not made by a member of a state or federally-recognized tribe or a person certified as being an Indian Artisan by a tribe.
  • Covers any type of craft, including art, carvings, baskets and musical instruments.
  • Applies to the entire United States, but not other countries.
  • If violated, is punishable by fines, penalties and/or imprisonment.
  • Needs to be correctly understood by all native-style flute makers and purchasers.

Native American Vs. Native American Style Flutes
If you are looking to sell or buy native-type flutes in the United States, and you are looking at what is available on the Internet, you will see two types of language being applied to these instruments. Legally, only those flutes crafted by State or Federally recognized tribal members or their designated Indian artisans may be sold as Native American Flutes. Any flute maker who does not meet this specific description must sell his instruments and Native American Style Flutes in order to be in compliance with the Indian Arts And Crafts Act.


It is important to understand that there are many excellent Native American-style flutes being made by craftspeople with only partial or no Indigenous heritage. In fact, some of United States' most celebrated Native American flute players endorse and play these non-Native-made flutes. There is nothing wrong or illegal about this, because these flutes are being properly sold, in compliance with the law, as Native American Style Flutes, rather than falsely advertised as Native-made.


Which Flute Origins Should You Be Especially Careful Of?
The three types of Native-style flutes most commonly made in the United States are the Plains Flute, Woodlands Flute and Anasazi Flute/Ancestral Pueblo Flute. Whether you are purchasing these online, from a brick-and-mortar music store, or from an event such as a Powwow, Fair or Festival, the vendor must make it perfectly clear to you whether the flute is Native or non-Native-made. In our flute maker comparison chart here at Native Flutes Walking, we have attempted to designate precisely this information about prominent U.S.-based flute makers.


What About Flutes Outside The United States?

What if you wish to purchase a Central or South American Flute, such as a Siku, Tarka or Ocarina? Chances are, unless you can find a flute maker in the United States who is reproducing these Indigenous instruments, you will end up buying your flute from an importer. In such case, it is often impossible to verify the exact origins of the flute, and the Indian Arts and Crafts Act does not prohibit false labeling in countries outside the U.S. Flutes may be sold as Made in Peru, Made in Ecuador, Made in Chile, Made in Mexico, etc., but it is hard to verify the accuracy of these labels, and unfortunately, it is possible that a Central or South American style flute may have been made outside the American continents. At Native Flutes Walking, we are unaware of any laws governing International truth-in-advertising, and do want to make it clear that purchasing Indigenous-style flutes from non-U.S. sources does not guarantee truthful labeling.


Despite this, some Central and South American flutes are somewhat obscure, and their craft may only be widely known amongst the Indigenous Peoples who have always made them. If possible, speak to the owners of import and music stores to see if there is any type of information available about the people who make the flutes they are selling.


Why It Is Important To Uphold The Indian Arts And Crafts Act
Native American Peoples have been subjected to exploitation and abuses in the worlds of arts and marketing. For example, many Native Americans are deeply offended by the use of Indian themes in sports as the names of teams or identities of mascots. Indigenous Americans have suffered tremendous hardships since the European invasion, and it is a further insult to them to see their cherished heritage falsely used for monetary gain. In the world of musical instruments, it is very important that no craftsperson or musician derive benefit from a false use of the Native American label, as this would only add to the wrongs Indigenous Peoples have suffered. With clear labeling and honest business practices, these unwanted scenarios can be avoided. If you would like to read the complete, official text of the Indian Arts And Crafts Act, click here.