Two Washington men charged for falsely claiming to be Native American artists in order to sell counterfeit art and craftwork

A person browses offerings in the Raven's Nest Treasure shop in Pike Place Market, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021, in Seattle.
A person browses offerings in the Raven’s Nest Treasure shop in Pike Place Market, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021, in Seattle.

  • Two Washington artists falsely claimed Nez Percé and San Carlos Apache tribal membership.
  • The pair sold pendants, totem poles, and masks under the guise of tribal affiliation.
  • Misrepresenting goods as being produced by Indigenous peoples violates federal law.

Washington residents Lewis Anthony Rath, 52, and Jerry Chris Van Dyke, 67, were investigated and charged for violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act by falsely representing themselves as Native American artists, despite the fact that neither has tribal membership or heritage, according to a Department of Justice press release.

Van Dyke was charged with two counts of misrepresentation of Indian produced goods and products after a complaint was filed against him with the Indian Arts and Crafts Board for falsely claiming Nez Percé tribal membership, the DOJ said. A similar complaint was also filed against Rath, who falsely claimed to be a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe. 

Undercover investigators from the US Fish and Wildlife Service purchased pendants, totem poles, and masks made by Rath and Van Dyke from Seattle shops, where they were advertised as Native American artwork, according to the DOJ.

“By flooding the market with counterfeit Native American art and craftwork, these crimes cheat the consumer, undermine the economic livelihood of Native American artists, and impairs Indian culture,” Edward Grace, assistant director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement, said in a press release.

Rath was also charged with unlawful possession of golden eagles parts and unlawful possession of migratory bird parts after agents executed a search warrant on his home and studio, where they discovered feathers from several species of protected birds, according to the DOJ.

Both men made their initial appearance in Seattle’s US District Court on Friday.

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