FTC Heads Education Campaign to Help Shoppers Assure Alaskan Native Art Is Authentic

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If you are considering purchasing Alaskan Native art, invest a little time learning about the processes and materials that Alaskan Native artisans use to create unique and beautiful objects. Partnering with the Alaska State Council on the Arts, the Indian Arts and Craft Board (IACB) and the Alaska Attorney General's Office, the Federal Trade Commission has developed and distributed more than 100,000 postcards and brochures to help assure the authenticity of Alaskan Native art.

The materials provide numerous tips - mostly centered on a "Silver Hand" certification program - on how to be confident that Alaskan Native art is truly Native. The education program also promotes awareness about the illegality of marketing non-Native art as Alaskan-Native. Any item produced after 1935 that is labeled with terms such as "Alaskan Native," "Native American," or "Indian" must be made by a member of a State or federally-recognized tribe or a certified Indian artisan.

Buying Tips

Alaskan Native arts and crafts are sold through many outlets, including tourist stores, gift shops, art galleries, museums, culture centers, and the Internet. Here are some tips to help you shop wisely:

  • Ask if your item comes with a certification tag. Not all authentic Alaskan Native arts and crafts items carry a tag. Those that do may display a Silver Hand symbol. This label features a silver hand and the words, "Authentic Native Handicraft from Alaska." The Made in Alaska emblem is another symbol you may find on some Alaskan-made products. This emblem certifies that the article "was made in Alaska," though not necessarily by an Alaskan Native.
  • Get written proof of any claims the seller makes for the authenticity of the art or craft item you're purchasing.
  • Get a receipt that includes all the vital information about the value of your purchase, including any oral representations. For example, if a salesperson tells you that the basket you're buying is made of baleen and ivory and was handmade by an Inupiaq artisan, insist that the information is on your receipt.

Art or Artificial

You may be wondering how to distinguish between arts and crafts produced by Alaskan Natives and items that are imitations. Price, materials, and appearance are important clues to provenance.

  • Price - The price of a genuine Alaskan Native art or craft item should reflect the quality of craftsmanship, the harmony of the design and the background of the artisan. Genuine pieces produced by skilled Alaskan Native artisans can be expensive.
  • Type of materials - Materials often used by Alaskan Native artisans include walrus ivory, soapstone, argillite, bone, alabaster, animal furs and skin, baleen and other marine mammal materials.
  • Appearance - Try to pick up and examine a piece before purchasing it. Some items that appear to be soapstone carvings actually may be made of resin. Real stone is cool to the touch; plastic is warm. Stone also tends to be heavier than plastic. And a figure that is presented as hand-carved probably isn't if you see or can order 10 more like it that are perfectly uniform or lack surface variations.

Where to Complain

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board refers valid complaints about violations of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 to the FBI for investigation and to the Department of Justice for legal action. To file a complaint under the Act, or to get free information about the Act, contact the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street, N.W., MS 4004-M1B, Washington, D.C. 20240; 202-208-3773; www.iacb.doi.gov.

Complaints to the IACB must be in writing and include the following information:

  • The name, address and telephone number of the seller.
  • A description of the art or craft item.
  • How the item was offered for sale.
  • What representations were made about the item, including any claims that the item was made by a member of a particular tribe or statements about its authenticity.
  • Any other documentation, such as advertisements, catalogs, business cards, photos, or brochures. Include copies (NOT originals) of documents that support your position.

For More Information

To learn more about Alaskan Native arts and crafts, contact:

Alaska State Council on the Arts
411 West 4th Avenue, Suite 1E
Anchorage, AK 99501-2343
907-269-6610; fax: 907-269-6601
Toll-free: 1-888-278-7424

The Alaska Attorney General's Office investigates unfair and deceptive marketing and sales practices in Alaska. To obtain a complaint form, contact the Office of the Attorney General, Consumer Protection Unit, 1031 West 4th Avenue, Suite 200. Anchorage, AK 99501; 907-269-5100; or use the complaint form at www.law.state.ak.us/consumer.

The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at www.ftc.gov


Contact Information

Derick Rill
FTC Office of Public Affairs

Charles Harwood Director,
FTC Northwest Region


L. Saunders McNeill
Native Arts Program Director
Alaska State Council on the Arts
411 West 4th Ave, Suite 1E
Anchorage, AK 99501-2343