Daily Wire Tip: American Indian Jewelry Laws

By on June 2, 2010
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip


What are the laws for selling Native American Style Jewelry? It is all handmade. I do a lot of Southwest Jewelry that looks similar to Navajo Style. I do sell to the public, and would like your opinion. I label my designs as Navajo Style, or Southwest Designs.

Definitely do not label or use the name of any American Indian tribe if you are not a registered member of that tribe! The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 clearly states that any type of misrepresentation will be in violation of this important law that is accompanied by heavy fines: https://www.iacb.doi.gov/act.html. It would be safer to use the term you suggested, ‘Southwest Style’ to describe your work.  For further reading: Consumer Indian Arts and to simplify things: Chief Seattle Laws.

Note: Lacyblu has some wonderful insight in the comments below!

Answer contributed by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong

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  1. avatar


    June 2, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    Great question – usually I label my designs as Southwestern Style, but I never thought about using Indian names. Thanks for the info!

  2. avatar


    June 2, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    I agree somewhat with Dale…As a Native American and a jewelry designer, it is not only disrespectful to us as an ethnic community, it is illegal to misrepresent any wares as Native American when they are not made by native Americans. the term “Southwest Style” still makes the buyer think the item is made by Native Americans…The term of “Southwestern” in regards to jewelry design originated with Native Americans and is still seen as being of Native Origin…The use of Turquoise, Coral, Silver and fetish is ALL Southwestern and from the Navajo, Zuni and Hopi tribes…It doesn’t matter that you don’t name the tribes themselves, the style “Southwestern” with jewelry identifies those tribes…I’m a Cherokee, Eastern band and though I make a good number of turquoise, coral, silver, and fetish pieces, I would never label them as Southwestern. That would be stealing those tribes “style” as my own. The Consumer Indian Arts Counsel is currently working to define the styles of various tribes in regards to arts, crafts, and jewelry to increase the fines against non Native people who misrepresent their works as being Native, in any capacity…
    The links Dale gave you are good for more information…You can also contact the Navajo, Zuni and Hopi tribe counsels for further information as the the and fines & penalties of Native American Peoples copyright infringement…

    • avatar


      June 3, 2010 at 1:46 am

      Thanks so much for your important comments Lacyblu.

    • avatar


      February 27, 2014 at 6:41 am

      I have a great respect for the plight of Native Americans and they losses they have incurred. My Great Grandmother is from the Seneca tribe (although I am not considered NA myself). I would like to point out the use of turquoise, coral, and silver goes back beyond the Native Americans. It was originally used in the Mesopotamia and Egyptians cultures as one the first stones to appear in jewelry. It was also ground up for makeup. To say the use of these items are strictly Southwestern is inaccurate. The “style” is in the design. I have seen many Native American pieces that contain stones that are from Africa but they are still NA in design.

  3. avatar


    June 2, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    This is such an important subject that I have shared this topic on Facebook.

  4. avatar

    Kathline McKay

    June 2, 2010 at 10:46 pm

    Yes you are right about using a a tribe name . But I do belive you can state it is if you have native blood even it is not on the books but birth show that you do have it. for I am only 1/16th native american.

  5. avatar


    June 3, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    One of the things that you do need to be extremely careful in your Native American style designs is feathers. Make sure they are from a known seller and be able to prove where they were purchased. The laws surrounding “natural feathers” whether you found it in your yard or on a walk in the woods can bring the law down on you big time.

  6. avatar


    June 5, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    Only 1/16th Native still does not allow a person to claim their handmade items are “Native American” made…Having 1/4 and above Native American blood is recognized by the laws that govern tribes and by their counsels…HOWEVER, when it comes to using ethnic bloodlines percentage for profit, the Counsel cites half blood [[and above]]for registration within the different tribal counsels…If you research you will find a great many people with minimal fractions of Native blood have been sued and lost due to the strong laws today that protect the tribes…If you don’t have a certified ancestral surname registered [[Dawes Commission Rolls]] with the Native American Council and a Tribe affiliation, the legal ramifications can be steep…I am Half Cherokee and Half Castillian and am registered with the NA Council and with 2 Cherokee tribal clans…These laws are for the protection of the Native American peoples…Far too much was taken away from the tribes…Misrepresenting oneself in any particular ethnic community is not only wrong but unfair, especially when it is done for profit…I could go on about this topic, but the question was based on jewelry design and sales…If it is NOT 100%native American made [[the style included]], the only right thing to do would be to sell it without a label…A buyer will still be interested in purchasing the one of a kind piece and the integrity of the sale would be valid…If anyone has other questions, please feel free to contact me directly [[as long as that does not offend Dale]]

    • avatar


      June 6, 2010 at 10:53 am

      Not at all Lacyblu, I appreciate the assistance as I cannot spend too long on a single subject when there are so many to take care of. Thanks so much for your offer to help in this sensitive area.

  7. avatar


    August 30, 2012 at 5:55 am

    OK can you not say NATIVE AMERICAN STYLE? or Southwestern STYLE,,just adding the word STYLE should make the buyer aware that its only in the style of the group or groups they are mimicing,,,i dont do this particular style but i do EGYPTIAN STYLE etems even tho im not egyptian myself,,and also in the description you could add,,,NOT MADE BY,,,,,,whoever,,,any way i think as long as you DONT say made BY American Indian it should be ok,,,but everybody is way to sensitive,,,

    • avatar


      August 30, 2012 at 9:03 am

      Hi Charlotte, part of why I love my position is I get to help jewelry artists from across the world become even better at selling their jewelry, whether it’s in the gem profiles by learning more about the stones they use, or by discovering new tools and techniques that makes creating the jewelry less work and more fun, or by making our community aware of laws and considerations they should know about when selling their craft.

      The difference between Native Americans and Ancient Egyptians is that the Native Americans are still here – and they are federally entitled to produce items and profit from their culture without the customer being confused what is “real” and what is a non-Native’s interpretation of the style. I don’t see anything in the links in this article that says “Native American style” is illegal, just that the act of misrepresenting/confusing the customer as to the origin of the piece is illegal – but who wants to risk jail time/fines to find out what a judge thinks is confusing?

      If anyone has any input on “style,” please feel free to comment below! Like I said, my research hasn’t turned up anything definite. Here’s an article that discusses this topic further.

  8. avatar


    August 30, 2012 at 6:05 am


    Generally, you can’t use any Native American name, unique styles or even give the impression that the designs are associated with any tribe. The designs, themselves, could confuse prospective purchasers and cause them to believe they’re Native American made or at least permitted. The tribes have trademarks to protect their names and designs. I don’t do Native designs because they’re uniquely based on tribal creativity and the tribes already have enough challenges. They don’t need non-Natives taking their ideas and cutting into their already limited income-generating streams.

  9. avatar

    Pam W

    August 30, 2012 at 6:32 am

    Surely in general the word ‘style’ means ‘in the style of’, ie not authentic? For example, if you saw something labelled as Art Deco style, you wouldn’t think it was original Art Deco, but a reproduction or modern copy. Therefore if I saw a piece of jewellery labelled whatever-style, I would think it was a copy.

    I’m just speaking in general terms, not specifically re the issue under discussion – I’m afraid I have no idea what Southwestern jewellery looks like so can’t comment on that.

    • avatar


      March 14, 2013 at 3:55 pm

      Southwestern style jewelry could mean anything someone choses it to mean. I live in the Southwest. To me, it means turquoise and silver, horses and coyotes, cowboys and indians, guns and arrowheads, boots and big belt buckles, cactus and horny toads, etc. If I were to sell this type of jewelry, as jewelry from the southwest, am I to understand it’s illegal to tell people where I live? I would not call it, tribal, reservation, or casino, even though the casino’s also do sell non-native american items. Now I have to wonder if they are misrepresenting/confusing the customer?

      • avatar


        March 14, 2013 at 5:18 pm

        Debby, calling jewelry “Southwestern” is OK, and Dale’s answer actually recommends that as an alternative to using a tribe’s name.

  10. avatar

    christa murphy

    August 30, 2012 at 7:02 am

    In regard to the comment about feathers, are you saying that all feathers have to be purchased and you cannot use any natural feathers? What about feathers from chickens or things like that? Where is that law?

    • avatar


      August 30, 2012 at 9:11 am

      Hi Christa, I was surprised when I heard about this too! But then again, who wants to deal with chicken lice or bird flu? Makes you think :)

      I haven’t found any laws in the US about feathers from personally-owned chickens – although there might be some state or local laws. What I do know is, it’s best to use feathers that are bought because they have been treated to kill diseases. Also these feathers are often dyed fun colors and I would imagine they’d keep a little longer than natural feathers.

      By the way, using feathers that you have found in the park is extremely illegal and is setting you up for fines or lawsuits because of a law that’s been on the books for nearly a century. This includes feathers from crows, chickadees, and more birds. Protect yourself!
      Here are some links for more about feathers:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Migratory_Bird_Treaty_Act_of_1918 (from this Wikipedia page you can see the history of the law as well as find links to the current official federal law – it is actually a treaty between the US and Canada, with very few exceptions)
      List of birds whose feathers can’t be collected without a permit: http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/RegulationsPolicies/mbta/mbtandx.html

      • avatar


        August 31, 2012 at 8:10 am

        If I remember correctly the feather laws been around for years. It protects endangered species, like the eagles

        • avatar


          August 31, 2012 at 9:00 am

          Yes! Even possessing an eagle feather can mean trouble. There are lots of articles out there on this subject. Thanks Pamela!

        • avatar


          February 27, 2014 at 6:32 am

          My sister and I have been making dream catchers and corn husk dolls for years. The law regarding the use of natural feathers for sale is summarized by: it is illegal to use any feathers that come from native birds other than turkey or chickens. They must be sterilized (as any other natural products like grasses or pinecones. For that reason alone it is better to purchase your feathers.

      • avatar

        Gypsi L

        October 9, 2014 at 8:45 pm

        Montana law states that feathers cannot be from any raptor, song bird or endangered species of foul. Feathers must from game birds or domestic farm birds.

        I have personally used wild turkey and Canadian Goose feathers in my work as well as grouse. I clean the feathers in a solution of bleach and water, let them dry, brush them out again and they are ready for use.

        I also paint on the feathers, so that’s one more reason I choose to use feathers from wild birds. Their tail feathers are much larger than what I can purchase in the store and much more economic.

  11. avatar

    Margaret Roper

    August 30, 2012 at 8:37 am

    Hi Dale,
    I purchased a pattern on line for a “Navajo Bracelet”, and that’s what I have been calling it. Whenever I use a pattern I always use the designer’s name for the piece as I feel is not mine to name.
    I am glad you pointed out these laws. Sometimes the right thing to do isn’t obvious.

  12. avatar


    August 30, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    I’m so glad Lacyblu cleared up such an important issue. I’m 1/4 Apache but make Navajo inspired turquoise, silver, coral, tigereye jewelry. I’ve decided not to call it anything remotely related to SW style nor any Native American style in the name. I was fairly informed about the naming laws but you all cleared it up perfectly.
    Thanks so very much,
    Susan H

  13. avatar

    Mike Ault

    August 30, 2012 at 8:09 pm

    Watch out for the Buffet tribe! I tried to name a piece the Margarittaville and they almost sicked lawyers on me…

    • avatar


      August 31, 2012 at 8:58 am

      Lol Mike!! Good one! :)

  14. avatar

    Joyce Folsom

    August 31, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    I find this article very interesting. I know somewhere in my ancestry there may be Native American and have always been inspired by that culture. I love the colors of the Southwest and the Seminole as well as others I have seen at Pow Wows. I think using the wording “Inspired by …….” might be less controversial and not appear to be taking credit that does not belong.

  15. avatar

    Moraima Annandsingh

    September 1, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    Very but very interesting. Although I don’t live in the USA, it is important to now all of this, because we don’t know when we can fall in that error, we don’t have much Indians in Trinidad, only a very little amount of Arawak. but thank you very much to Lacyblu for his information. And thank you to Dale and Rose also for publishing this interesting topic.

  16. avatar


    February 1, 2013 at 8:12 am

    On another note, magnesite and howlite that is passed off as turquoise is a problem for me. Sometimes I doubt when turquoise is listed as the bead in a “southwest style design”. All in all, designers, jewelry crafters label properly. As to the southwest, Native American issue, surely we can be creative in naming our designs without breaking these very important laws. I live in New Mexico and respect these issues. I own pieces by various artists from the pueblos in our state.

    • avatar

      Gypsi L

      October 9, 2014 at 8:41 pm

      I too have issues with magnesite and howlite being passed off as turquoise. So when I make jewelry out of either of these, I label it either imitation turquoise or exactly what the stone is. If it is made with real turquoise, then it is labeled as such and where the stone came from if possible.

  17. avatar


    January 10, 2014 at 8:14 am

    I’m relative a newbie too…I’ve been making jewelry from new materials and materials that I may purchase at an estate sale or friends give me pieces they don’t want, are broken, etc. I repurpose those items in my own style…which is whatever flows from my fingers that day. I can’t say I have a particular style but just use what I am have to work with, put them together and make something pretty and appealing to my customers. If I have fetish pieces that I use in a necklace or bracelet…what do I call that? Obviously it was originally made by someone of tribal descent but I have no idea whom or where it came from originally. I have a name for my jewelry which has nothing to do with anything except a name I picked for myself. Is is a problem to repurpose these items if they are labeled as repurposed?

  18. avatar


    June 18, 2015 at 7:27 am

    Unless the designer is a Registered Member of the Navajo Nation, he/she is in violation of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. If he/she is, he/she can not transfer the right to use that name to a buyer. Please read the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.

  19. avatar


    March 21, 2016 at 6:38 pm

    Pam, the key difference between a “style” like Art Deco and Southwestern/Native American is that in referring to Art Deco, you are reflecting a PERIOD in broader design style, whereas the latter points to a particular PEOPLE, a real group of living souls. I believe this is part of the confusion in the labeling and use of design styles.