Date of this Version
Published in Textile Society of America 2014 Biennial Symposium Proceedings: New Directions: Examining the Past, Creating the Future, Los Angeles, California, September 10–14, 2014,
Native Americans, along with the scenery, are primary attractions in New Mexico and Arizona, and tourism brings billions into the region annually. Since the Indian arts and crafts ‘boom’ in the 1970s, unemployment has increased dramatically on reservations where artisanal production provides essential income. Isleta carver Andy Abeita acknowledges that the world renowned recognition of southwest arts and crafts does not reflect what goes on within impoverished makers’ homes. Currently 80% of the 1.5 billion dollar sales annually of “Indian” products is fabricated and imported into the US. ‘Knock-offs’ flood the shelves of hundreds of retailers, ‘trading posts,’ casino gift shops and thousands of internet sites. This paper explores the consequences of appropriation facilitated by scholars depicting Navajos as great ‘borrowers,’ (the sheep from the Spanish, the loom from the Pueblos and designs from traders), and contrasts it to another controversy. In 1991, the Smithsonian licensed American Pacific Enterprises to have quilt patterns from their collection reproduced in China in order to generate revenue supporting heritage programming. Thousands of quilters petitioned Congress to cut the Smithsonian’s budget. Bowing to pressure, the museum canceled the contract and funded a quilt legacy program. Historic quilt patterns and Navajo designs reside in the public domain, leaving them vulnerable to appropriation. Currently “Navajo knock-offs” are woven in twenty countries and imported into the US. This is perfectly legal if textiles are not labeled “Indian-made,” since the Indian Arts and Crafts Board Act, a truth in advertising law, protects consumers not producers. The free market anarchism currently operative remains under- researched since scholars continue to profile artists as ‘cultural performers,’ and ignore the politico-economic domain. Analyzing the lacuna in the construction of Navajo weaving history reveals the consequences of globalization for thousands of weavers faced with a challenging future in sustaining their lifeways and livelihood.