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Indian company sues S.L. crafts firm

A Salt Lake City business that markets Indian-style crafts is being sued in Illinois by a company made up of Ho-Chunk tribal members.

Chicago-based Native American Arts Inc., which sells authentic native goods made by federally recognized members of tribes, filed suit in Chicago Monday against Moon Raven, contending the Salt Lake firm is in violation of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990.The act makes it unlawful to sell items under the false suggestion that they are Indian-produced.

Moon Raven International sells items such as healing stones, handmade bone jewelry and prayer feathers. It markets through phone orders, catalogs and brochures and promotes itself as a "leading Native American wholesale gift manufacturing" company.

Moon Raven filed its own suit Tuesday in Utah federal court, alleging Native American Arts has injured its reputation and interfered with its business by contacting some of its customers and falsely telling them Moon Raven was in violation of the law.

"Moon Raven has never indicated, suggested or advertised in any manner that its products that have a Native American theme are made or produced by Indians, because they are not," the company said in a statement Thursday.

Moon Raven wants U.S. District Judge Dee Benson to rule it is not violating the act.

Michael Patrick Mullen, attorney for Native American Arts, said, "Moon raven violates the statute because they are selling their products falsely suggesting they are Indian-made."

In a catalog Mullen filed as an exhibit to his lawsuit, Moon Raven tells its customers the Utah company "takes pride in the handmade quality" of its goods "and we are proud to continue in the great Native American Heritage that they represent."

The Utah company is asking for more than $300,000 in damages. The Illinois company seeks more than $5 million.

The Indian arts and crafts market has grown into a billion-dollar industry, but the act has rarely been used to regulate non-Indian artisans.

The American Indian Arts and Crafts Board was created in 1935 to develop marketing opportunities for authentic Indian arts and crafts and to protect the economic interests of Indian craftspeople.

Criminal penalties enacted at that time provided no meaningful deterrent to those who misrepresented imitation arts and crafts as Indian-produced and little enforcement took place.

It was amended in 1990 to put more teeth into the law.