2 WA artists plead guilty to faking Native American heritage

Two Western Washington artists have pleaded responsible right after becoming billed for faking Indigenous American heritage to offer artwork, even with neither getting tribal enrollment or heritage.

In two individual cases, Lewis Anthony Rath, 53, of Maple Falls, and Jerry Chris Van Dyke (also recognised as Jerry Witten), 68, of Seattle, ended up billed, both in late 2021, with violations of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, a statute aimed at ridding the Indigenous arts and crafts marketplace of counterfeits. Both equally guys are set to be sentenced May 17.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Assistance investigations, which commenced in February 2019, uncovered that Van Dyke, below the identify Witten, experienced represented himself as a Nez Perce artist when advertising his artworks, inspite of afterwards admitting to USFWS brokers that he was not a tribal member. Carved pendants explained to be centered on Aleut masks were being among some of his faked works. On Wednesday, Van Dyke pleaded responsible to misrepresentation of Indian produced items and items, which can contain a sentence of up to 1 calendar year in prison. 

“We are glad to have arrived at a just result with Mr. Van Dyke’s misdemeanor plea,” stated Vanessa Pai-Thompson, Van Dyke’s attorney, in a assertion. “Mr. Van Dyke did not commit his offenses out of greed and I look forward to sharing much more about him at sentencing.”

In 2021, Van Dyke instructed investigators that the plan to characterize his perform as Native American was Matthew Steinbrueck’s, the proprietor of Raven’s Nest Treasure. Van Dyke bought do the job under the identify Witten at the Pike Put Industry shop, The Involved Press documented at the time. When talking with the AP, Steinbrueck denied the assert.

When attained for remark, Pai-Thompson declined to remark more on Van Dyke’s promises or Steinbrueck’s potential involvement.

Steinbrueck could not be promptly reached for remark.

Though the eventual sentencing will be up to U.S. District Choose Tana Lin, Van Dyke and the prosecutors are recommending no prison time under Van Dyke’s plea arrangement.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Workplace, an investigation into Rath, which started in Could 2019, observed Rath to be falsely representing himself as a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe when undercover agents obtained Rath’s artworks, such as carved totem poles, masks and a necklace, from Raven’s Nest and Ye Olde Curiosity Store. Brokers executing a look for warrant on Rath’s Whatcom County house and studio then found feathers from protected birds this sort of as golden eagles and other migratory birds like hawks, jays and owls in Rath’s possession. The feathers have due to the fact been forfeited to the government.

Rath pleaded guilty to misrepresentation of Indigenous American manufactured products and products and solutions and illegal possession of golden eagle components, equally punishable by up to one particular yr in jail, as very well as unlawful possession of migratory bird sections, which is punishable by up to six months in jail.

Reached for comment, Rath’s lawyer Gregory Geist said his customer is remorseful and open to carrying out “anything he can in the upcoming to handle the impact and hurt he brought on,” like collaborating in “a restorative justice system.”

Meridith Stanton, director of the U.S. Division of the Inside Indian Arts and Crafts Board, which is accountable for implementing the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, explained in a assertion that the board is pleased to see Van Dyke and Rath “brought to justice for their roles in selling bogus Indian artwork.” Stanton named circumstances like these crucial to preserving the integrity of reliable Indigenous American artwork, the financial livelihoods of Indigenous artists and the cultural heritage of the Nez Perce Tribe and San Carlos Apache Tribe.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Nick Brown added that bogus statements like these can just take sales away from artists working to guidance them selves utilizing capabilities and tactics handed down for generations.

“Stores and galleries have to have to partner with artists to make sure individuals artisans and craftsmen advertised as Indian artists actually have tribal standing,” Brown stated.