Why Buying Indigenous Art Is A Win-Win For Consumers

RAPID CITY, SD (KEVN) – JhonDuane Goes In Center is a Native American artisan who handcraft rings, necklaces and other jewelry.

Each piece he makes is unique. The agate stones he uses in his art come from the Black Hills and Badlands.

“Find the agates and create something with it – that someone significantly wears one of my jewelry because they see the beauty of the agate,” says Goes in Center. “Me too, that amuses me. We all do. “

Jeweler Lakota makes most of his products to order. He says it’s easier to make a few pieces of jewelry at a time than a catalog of items, and focusing on a few customers tends to lead to a higher quality product.

Goes In Center has been creating since childhood, but his interest in jewelry, metalwork and printmaking dates back to the 1970s.

JhonDuane Goes in Center, a Lakota jeweler, stops work to examine one of his unfinished pieces at his Racing Magpie workshop in Rapid City, SD on December 22, 2021. Goes in Center collects his own gems – like the fairburn agate he holds – from the Black Hills and Badlands and turns what he finds into rings and necklaces.(Dominique Dausch)

As to why he creates, the artist says dollar signs aren’t what drives him.

“I’m not really doing it for the money. I am not rich. I’m not famous, ”says Goes in Center. ” This is my passion. This is what I really love to do. He is kind of [for] my reason. I have a very eclectic technical career. I worked at IBM, but … in the background, I have always done art.

However, arts and crafts are an important source of income for a considerable portion of Native Americans in South Dakota.

Peter Strong, Director of Racing Magpie
Peter Strong, Director of Racing Magpie(Pierre Strong)

Peter Strong, director of Racing Magpie, explains that some Indian artists rely on the sale of homemade arts and crafts – otherwise known as cottage industries or small manufacturing businesses – to support themselves. needs and those of their families.

“Studies have been conducted over the past decade that 40% of households on the Pine Ridge Reservation derive the majority of their income from handmade art, artifacts or sales, which therefore affects a large number of individuals and families, ”says Strong.

Strong says that when commercial fakes, like Indian-inspired rings and necklaces often found on e-commerce websites and at local retailers enter the Indigenous art market, many different factors come into play and affect indigenous artisans.

First, there’s the impact on the market: Strong says these facsimiles extract potential income from indigenous peoples.

There are also the implications of the theft and appropriation of cultural knowledge.

Strong says the damage can be considerable when non-natives violate India’s Arts and Crafts Act 1990 by advertising and selling “native-made” products, which come sometimes. He says the integrity of tribal sovereignty – the right to autonomy of American tribes recognized by the federal government – is at stake.

“[This] in fact undermines the inherent authority and sovereignty of the tribes to determine who is a member of their tribe and who can also represent themselves that way.

JhonDuane Goes in Center uses a small knife to adjust the silver mount around a polished fairburn agate in his Racing Magpie workshop in Rapid City, SD, December 22, 2021 Each gemstone needs to be polished and refined on a 2 diamond sander. $ 000 that it uses before it can be turned into wearable jewelry.(Dominique Dausch)

It’s not surprising to see people imitating Indigenous art, however – most consumers genuinely appreciate the Plains Indian and other tribal aesthetic – and Goes in Center actually encourages this practice – in a way. to some extent.

“I would not stop anyone from doing anything that was ‘inspired’. I actually really believe art inspires art… I’ve done rodeo loops, but it’s kind of a subculture in America and native people participate in rodeo and the like, ”Goes says. Center. “When it comes to identifying with and leveraging a particular culture, it’s quite a change in value system. “

However, the practice of making ‘inspired’ products also tends to fuel stereotypes: ‘My partner likes to say’ long hair, feathers and sunsets’ – that very romanticized take … capturing who the Indigenous people are or even just lumping aboriginals into a large cultural group, ”says Strong.

Inspired Indians

In reality, the distinctions between “Indian inspired” and “Indian made” handicrafts generally subvert expectations: generations of cultural knowledge to guide the artist.

“There are people who are breeders. They love our culture. They’ll even start doing things [based] about our culture. They will study it. It’s very anthropological, in a way, ”says Goes in Center.

Sabrina Pourier, a Lakota artisan who sells a variety of handmade items on his website, manufactures a variety of products, from easy-to-make waxes to backpacks and leather bags.

“My wax casting line – they all have Lakota names on them,” Pourier says. “In a way, I put this out in other people’s homes, so when they look in their shelves, they see an English name, but they also see Lakota words.”

Yet none of its stocks are tagged with marketing phrases like “made native”. Its products include Lakota words and patterns – one item, a leather hat decorated with beads, features images of horses painted in Indian style – but the value lies in creativity, not culture.

Goes in Center asserts that most modern Indigenous artists focus on creating artwork, not “Indigenous art”; he sees himself as a contemporary, because what he creates is unique, rather than “antique”.

“For me, creativity continues to move. It is not static. A guy will master beanie making, so he’ll be making beanies all the time, ”says Goes in Center. “That’s part of the appeal to unsuspecting customers, because their idea of ​​the story is kind of locked into a period of time – like ‘that’s what all Indians do.’ “

Yet the average craftsman has to put on his salesman’s hat every now and then.

Native Shop

Many Indigenous artists start small, making more modest handicrafts, such as Pourier wax casts and baby moccasins. These low-investment goods provide some income to artisans in between high-quality jobs that consumers occasionally order.

“I know a lot of artists, the things they make, I call ‘bread and butter’ items. Something that will fit into the economy, ”says Goes in Center. “He still has an attachment to creativity and self-esteem. This stuff, I understand; I do rings and stuff, because I know it will suit somebody and they will buy it and they will wear it.

Like any artist, there are also expenses in everything they do.

“You look in my workshop … my engraving machine, it’s a $ 2,000 item.” My polishing machine, my diamond wheels – they don’t come cheap, ”says Goes in Center.

However, the educated consumer demographics are quite niche, according to Goes in Center: “[there’s] people who really know what they want and are very familiar with authenticity, and other people just say “I don’t care”. I just want to hang something on the rearview mirror of my car.

A range of bespoke gemstone rings made by JhonDuane Goes in Center can be seen on display ...
A range of bespoke gemstone rings made by JhonDuane Goes in Center can be seen in artist Lakota’s studio on December 22, 2021. Goes in Center says commissioning from a Lakota artist is a win-win situation : the craftsman is paid directly for his work and the buyer leaves with a high quality part.(Dominique Dausch)

Ashley Pourier, curator of the Heritage Center at Red Cloud Indian School, says working directly with Indigenous artists, rather than buying similar products from a retailer, is key to supporting their financial independence.

“Investing in an artist is the difference for them to replenish their inventory, launch their own website or afford to travel to a market,” says Ashley. “Investing in this… small business model is a huge step forward for any artist in general. “

“We are a creative people. We have been around for 10,000 years. We are smart. We are spiritual. We’re creative – people don’t realize it – and you might actually own some of that creativity by working with an artist. If you really talk to an artist, you will get a better appreciation that goes beyond the [monetary value] of something you really own from an artist, ”says Goes in Center.

This report is the third in a three-part series on the labeling of Indian product laws and the impact of illegitimate products on Native Americans.

The first part can be found here.

The second part can be found here.

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Christopher S. Washington