Seattle-based artist Jerry Chris Van Dyke, who falsely advertised his carvings as Native American art, has been sentenced to 18 months of federal probation.
In March, Van Dyke, who has no tribal enrollment or heritage, pleaded guilty to violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act—a federal truth-in-marketing law administered by the Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB) to curtail the proliferation of counterfeit Native American artworks.
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The Indian Arts and Crafts Board received a tip in February that Van Dyke had claimed to be a member of the federally recognized Nez Perce Tribe, whose ancestral lands are in present-day Idaho. Undercover investigators from the US Fish and Wildlife Service then entered a gallery in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, where they purchased carved pendants made by Van Dyke but advertised as the work of a Native American artist named Jerry Witten.
“When non-Native artists falsely claim Indian heritage, they can take sales away from true Indian artists working to support themselves with skills and techniques handed down for generations,” U.S. Attorney Nick Brown said in a statement. “Stores and galleries need to partner with artists to ensure those artisans and craftsmen advertised as Indian Artists truly have tribal status.”
Upon being questioned by agents, Van Dyke admitted that he knowingly misrepresented masks and pendants—made of antlers, wooly mammoth ivory, and fossilized walrus ivory—as authentic works made in the artistic tradition of the Indigenous people of northern Alaska and the Bering Sea. Through the gallery, Van Dyke had sold more than $1,000 worth of counterfeit Native American artwork.
Van Dyke was first charged in December 2021, together with another Washington-based artist who had falsely claimed Native American ancestry, Lewis Anthony Rath.
“Prosecuting cases of fraud in the art world is a unique responsibility and part of our work to support Tribal Nations,” Brown, said. “I hope this case will make artists and gallery owners think twice about the consequences of falsely calling an artist Native and work Native-produced. They should consider the damage to reputation, the legal fees and ultimately a criminal record.”