Seattle Artist Who Falsely Claimed Native American Ancestry Sentenced to 18 Months of Probation

Seattle-based artist Jerry Chris Van Dyke, who falsely marketed his carvings as Native American artwork, has been sentenced to 18 months of federal probation. 

In March, Van Dyke, who has no tribal enrollment or heritage, pleaded responsible to violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act—a federal truth-in-marketing regulation administered by the Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB) to curtail the proliferation of counterfeit Native American artworks. 

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board acquired a tip in February that Van Dyke had claimed to be a member of the federally acknowledged 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, the place they bought carved pendants made by Van Dyke however marketed because the work of a Native American artist named Jerry Witten.

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“When non-Native artists falsely declare Indian heritage, they’ll take gross sales away from true Indian artists working to assist themselves with abilities and strategies handed down for generations,” U.S. Legal professional Nick Brown stated in a statement. “Shops and galleries must companion with artists to make sure these artisans and craftsmen marketed as Indian Artists really have tribal standing.”

Upon being questioned by brokers, Van Dyke admitted that he knowingly misrepresented masks and pendants—fabricated from antlers, wooly mammoth ivory, and fossilized walrus ivory—as genuine works made within the creative custom of the Indigenous folks of northern Alaska and the Bering Sea. By the gallery, Van Dyke had offered greater than $1,000 price of counterfeit Native American art work. 

Van Dyke was first charged in December 2021, along with one other Washington-based artist who had falsely claimed Native American ancestry, Lewis Anthony Rath.

“Prosecuting instances of fraud within the artwork world is a novel accountability and a part of our work to assist Tribal Nations,” Brown, stated. “I hope this case will make artists and gallery homeowners assume twice in regards to the penalties of falsely calling an artist Native and work Native-produced. They need to take into account the injury to popularity, the authorized charges and in the end a prison file.”


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