Buy Native, Buy Fair Trade

Annually held on the second Saturday in May and coming up on May 14 this year is World Fair Trade Day. Started by the World Fair Trade Organization in 2001, millions of businesses, policy-makers and “agents of change” around the globe support this important day. Fair trade aims at promoting economic sustainability, the eradication of poverty and social justice for the world’s most vulnerable populations. For many small and disadvantaged designers, producers and traders, fair trade gives them a better chance at sustainable livelihoods – and this includes Native American vendors.

5.10.16 Buy Native, Buy Fair Trade - Cameron Visit-Rosie Yazzie-DSC_0475A special challenge impacting fair trade for Native Americans, however, is “cultural misappropriation.” While this concept has a wider meaning, in this case we are referring to the creation and sale of “Native- inspired” jewelry, artwork, clothing and other textiles by non-Native vendors.

The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 prohibits sellers from misrepresenting or even implying that a product is Indian-made or associated with a particular tribe if it is not. For some tribes, such as Navajo, the tribal name may not be used, as in “Navajo-inspired.” A true Indian artisan is an enrolled member of a tribe or certified by the tribe as an Indian artisan.

The responsibility remains with each buyer to ensure you are buying authentic Indian-made goods. While it is not always easy to spot an imitation item – especially, but not limited to, jewelry – factors such as price, materials, appearance and markings of authenticity may help. These five tips will help you buy Native-made jewelry:

  1. Buy from a seller who will give you a written guarantee or statement of authenticity.
  2. If the seller indicates your purchase is sterling silver and turquoise jewelry handmade by an Indian artist, ensure your receipt states this information, as well as the value of your purchase. Also look for the 925 stamp indicating real sterling.
  3. If purchasing at powwows, festivals, fairs or other events, check the event requirements for information on the authenticity of products being sold. If no information is given, ask for an authenticity statement for any items you deem relevant or appropriate.
  4. While some Native items and souvenirs are inexpensive, remember that authentic, high-quality Indian-made jewelry can be expensive, as it requires significant skills and talents to produce.
  5. Look for the artist’s “hallmark’ (a symbol or signature) stamped on the jewelry to identify their work.

In support of our mission, PWNA routinely looks for opportunities to work with Native American service providers and vendors. We encourage you to do the same and to think outside of the box about what Native vendors can provide. In addition to art, jewelry, textiles and clothing, Native offerings span retail, software, professional services, office products and equipment, energy, financial services and media, as shown in the Inc 5000 list of top Native American businesses for 2015.

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