Friday, November 20, 2009

Tribal Art: The New Felony?

Did you know that the person who sells art to you could be a felon? Or you could be one for purchasing any art with a component of wood or plant fiber?


According to provisions in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, aka Public Law 110-246, an amendment to the Lacey Act that is included in the bill makes all wood a federally regulated, suspect substance.

To quote from the blog, Classical Values, “Either raw wood, lumber, or anything made of wood from tables and chairs, to flooring, siding, particle board, to handles on knives, baskets, chopsticks, or even toothpicks has to have a label naming the genus and species of tree that it came from and the country of origin. Incorrect labeling becomes a federal felony.” And the law applies to any wood product that is in interstate commerce within the country.

Here are excerpts from a summary of the law, once again as provided by Classical Values:

“Anyone who imports into the United States, or exports out of the United States, illegally harvested plants or products made from illegally harvested plants, including timber, as well as anyone who exports, transports, sells, receives, acquires or purchases such products in the United States, may be prosecuted.”


“Violations of the Lacey Act provisions for timber and other plant products, as well as fish and wildlife, may be prosecuted through either civil or criminal enforcement actions. Regardless of any prosecution, the tainted plants may be seized and forfeited.”

So, according to this law and this interpretation of it, anyone who sells you a wood carving, a basket, or an object of art with a wood component, such as a picture frame, and anyone who buys it, without a label as to genus and species of wood and country of origin, can be subject to prosecution of committing a felony. And you can be prosecuted for buying and having it.

Yes, there is a requirement that interstate commerce have been included. But almost everything we sell and own these days was involved in interstate commerce at one time or another.

While all would have to agree that the chances of anyone being prosecuted is remote, it is also true that once the Feds have you in their sights, they can and will use anything to get you. I recall hearing that they never could arrest Al Capone for anything, due to insufficient evidence, until they caught him with an open cigarette pack on which the federal tax stamp had not been destroyed.

Equally of concern is the possibility that materials can be confiscated and not returned, regardless of the outcome of any prosecution.

There have been recent stories of Federal agents raiding and confiscating collections of Native American tribal artifacts on the premise that the items were acquired illegally and in violation of Federal law. Granted, some pieces confiscated do fall under Federal prohibitions. At the same time, many pieces are confiscated that do not constitute contraband. These may be held for long periods, even indefinitely, during investigations.

Keep this in mind as you consider selling or purchasing any goods that fall within the purview of the Lacey Act as amended by Public Law 110-246.

Is anyone safe?

This report is provided by Aboriginals: Art of the First Person, online dealers in African, Australian and Native American tribal art.

We also offer Native American jewelry, Native American pottery and Native American stone carvings online.

1 comment:

Angela Swedberg said...


Thanks for that post. It shows that laws we think as helpful in one instance can be miss-used in others. Especially when laws like this can be selectively enforced to promote a agenda. The Native Art world is full of such craziness.