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New Mexico senators combating counterfeit tribal art

The Indian Arts and Crafts Act was established in 1990. The act makes it illegal for people to sell counterfeit tribal art.

“I very much look forward to today’s discussion exploring how to modernize the Indian Arts and Crafts Act,” said New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall.

On Friday, Sen. Tom Udall and Sen. Martin Heinrich along with Native American artists held and official Senate committee hearing in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The meeting comes as federal prosecutors are preparing for two trials next month. Investigators traced fake Native American art to manufacturers in the Philippines. The fake art made its way to galleries across the United States from Santa Fe to Virginia and Alaska. It has a value of $11 million.

“I think it’s great. It’s long overdue. It’s an issue,” said David Villanueva.

Villanueva owns Galleria Zia, which is located at the El Paso International Airport.

He devotes his time to finding authentic Native American art and jewelry.

Villanueva told ABC-7 counterfeit merchandise is all over the Indian jewelry market.

“There’s too much fake stuff out there. To the untrained eye it’s hard to differentiate what it is unless you know what you’re looking at,” Villanueva said.

In a statement sent to ABC-7, Heinrich said, “When tribal artists and communities are denied ownership of their own cultures, they lose the ability to maintain their language, their beliefs and their way of life.”

“These people are doing that to forever educate people of their culture and their history and, as a consumer I want to help strengthen that,” Villanueva said.

Tribal artists said the flood of counterfeit Native American art not only waters down their culture but their economy as well.

Villanueva, who is a member of the Indian Arts and Crafts Association said buyers who want tribal art should ask sellers about the authenticity of the product.

“Ask to get it in writing and if the person selling it to you refuses, then don’t buy it,” Villanueva said.

Right now, anyone caught selling counterfeit tribal art can get a $250,000 maximum fine.

Lawmakers say they want stiffer fines.

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