SEATTLE – Two artists face federal charges for tampering with Native American heritage to sell works in galleries in downtown Seattle.
Lewis Anthony Rath, 52, of Maple Falls, and Jerry Chris Van Dyke, 67, also known as Jerry Witten, of Seattle, were separately charged with violating Indian Art Law and crafts, which prohibits misrepresentation in the marketing of American Indians or Alaskan Natives. craftsmanship.
The US attorney’s office said Rath falsely claimed to be a member of the Apache tribe of San Carlos and that Van Dyke falsely claimed membership of the Nez Perce tribe. The merchandise included masks, totems and pendants sold in 2019 at Raven’s Nest Treasure in Pike Place Market and the Ye Olde Curiosity Shop by the water.
“By flooding the market with counterfeit Native American arts and crafts, these crimes deceive the consumer, undermine the economic livelihoods of Native American artists and undermine Indian culture,” said Edward Grace, deputy director of the force office. of the order of the Fish and Wildlife Service of the United States. , said in a press release.
Rath and Van Dyke were scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court on Friday afternoon. Their attorneys, Federal Public Defenders Gregory Geist and Vanessa Pai-Thompson, said in an email Friday that they did not have immediate comment on the charges.
Authorities said the investigation began when the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, an Home Office agency that promotes indigenous art, received complaints that the two were fraudulently posing as registered tribal members. .
Rath is charged with four counts of misrepresenting products made in India, punishable by up to five years in prison. Van Dyke faces two counts of the same crime.
Rath also faces one count of unlawful possession of parts of a golden eagle and illegal possession of parts of migratory birds.
According to the prosecution documents, an employee of Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, which has been in business for more than a century, told investigators that she wrote an artist biography of Rath based on information he had provided on his tribal affiliation.
Matthew Steinbrueck, the owner of Raven’s Nest Treasure, told investigators the performers told him they were members of the tribe and that he believed them, according to the documents. He said he did not knowingly sell counterfeit Indian products.
âI’ve been doing this in good faith for many years – for over 30 years,â Steinbrueck told The Associated Press on Friday. “Our mission is to represent authentic Aboriginal art. We have had over 100 authentic Aboriginal artists. I have always taken them at their word.”
He said his family has long valued Native American culture, since the time when his great-grandfather adopted a member of the tribe. Steinbrueck’s father, Victor Steinbrueck, an architect known for helping preserve Pike Place Market and Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square neighborhood, raised him to revere Indigenous culture, he said.
Van Dyke told investigators it was Steinbrueck’s idea to represent his work as a Native American.
Steinbrueck denied this, saying Van Dyke appeared to be trying to reduce his own guilt. He called Van Dyke “a fabulous sculptor” who made art in the style of his wife’s native Alaskan tribe, including pendants carved from fossilized mammoth or walrus ivory.
Neither Ye Olde Curiosity Shop nor Raven’s Nest has been charged in this case.
Gabriel Galanda, an indigenous rights lawyer in Seattle who belongs to the Round Valley tribes of Northern California, said that if stores are offering products as being produced by natives, they should check the legacy of the creators, for example. by examining tribal or federal registration cards. Indian blood certificates.
âThere has to be some diligence done by these galleries,â Galanda said.
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