There is a new trend in the fashion industry. Why do archaeologists care? Because this “trend” is infringing upon the cultural property of Native Americans, the Navajo Nation specifically.
In June, the Navajo Nation’s Department of Justice sent Urban Outfitters a cease and desist letter regarding the chain’s appropriation of the Navajo name.
On Columbus Day, Sasha Houston Brown of the Santee Sioux Nation wrote a letter to Urban Outfitters CEO Glen T. Senk regarding the appropriation by Urban Outfitters of Navajo cultural property.
The company’s initial response was dismissive, “Like many other fashion brands, we interpret trends and will continue to do so for years to come,” company spokesman Ed Looram said. “The Native American-inspired trend and specifically the term ‘Navajo’ have been cycling through fashion, fine art and design for the last few years.”
However, they have since ceased using the word “Navajo” on their products.
The legal request to cease and desist from the Navajo Nation did not seem to have an effect on Urban Outfitter’s use of the tribe’s name on their trinkets. It was only when an outraged Santee Sioux woman wrote a letter to the CEO on a public forum that the change was made.
Urban Outfitters was in violation of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, and also in violation of Navajo trademarks.
The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 is a “truth-in-advertising law”:
“All products must be marketed truthfully regarding the Indian heritage and tribal affiliation of the producers, so as not to mislead the consumer. It is illegal to market an art or craft item using the name of a tribe if a member, or certified Indian artisan, of that tribe did not actually create the art or craft item.
For example, products sold using a sign claiming “Indian Jewelry” would be a violation of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act if the jewelry was produced by someone other than a member, or certified Indian artisan, of an Indian tribe. Products advertised as “Hopi Jewelry” would be in violation of the Act if they were produced by someone who is not a member, or certified Indian artisan, of the Hopi tribe.”
“If a business violates the Act, it can face civil penalties or can be prosecuted and fined up to $1,000,000.”
–US Department of Interior, Indian Arts and Crafts Board
Navajo Trademarks are easily found through the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The Trademark Office has an online database that is easily searched, I typed in the word “Navajo” and came back with 150 results. One of which discusses ornaments for personal wear. I am not a lawyer, I don’t know if this trademark is applicable to the Urban Outfitters/Navajo Nation controversy, I just wanted to illustrate how easy it is to find Navajo trademarks on the Trademarks Electronic Search System (TESS). Which is exactly what Urban Outfitters should have done before attempting to pass their items off as Navajo, items not even made in North America.
Urban Outfitters continues to sell Native-style items:
and is probably continuing to break the law by calling this item “Tribal”:
Real Navajo Dreamcatchers look better made, and are also more affordable:
There are lots of places to buy real Native American made items. There are also many places to learn about Native American culture, the Navajo Nation Museum in Arizona, and a number of museums in California (if you’re from here like me).