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Two Washington artists billed with faking Native American heritage

SEATTLE — Two artists are struggling with federal expenses that they faked Native American heritage to promote functions at downtown Seattle galleries.

Lewis Anthony Rath, 52, of Maple Falls, and Jerry Chris Van Dyke, 67, also recognized as Jerry Witten, of Seattle, have been billed separately with violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, which prohibits misrepresentation in internet marketing American Indian or Alaska Native arts and crafts.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office claimed Rath falsely claimed to be a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, and Van Dyke falsely claimed membership in the Nez Perce Tribe. The items bundled masks, totem poles and pendants offered in 2019 at Raven’s Nest Treasure in Pike Put Sector and at Ye Olde Curiosity Store on the waterfront.

“By flooding the marketplace with counterfeit Indigenous American artwork and craftwork, these crimes cheat the shopper, undermine the financial livelihood of Native American artists, and impair Indian lifestyle,” Edward Grace, assistant director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Business office of Legislation Enforcement, said in a news release.

Rath and Van Dyke have been due to surface in U.S. District Court docket on Friday afternoon. Their lawyers, federal general public defenders Gregory Geist and Vanessa Pai-Thompson, mentioned in an electronic mail Friday they did not have any immediate comment on the expenses.

Authorities mentioned the investigation started when the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, an Interior Division agency that encourages Native art, received issues that the two had been fraudulently keeping them selves out as enrolled tribal members.

Rath is billed with four counts of misrepresentation of Indian-generated items, which is punishable by up to five a long time in prison. Van Dyke faces two counts of the exact crime.

Rath also faces 1 misdemeanor count of unlawfully possessing golden eagle areas, and one of unlawfully possessing migratory fowl sections.

In accordance to charging paperwork, an personnel of Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, which has been in company for much more than a century, informed investigators that she wrote an artist biography of Rath centered on details he provided about his tribal affiliation.

Matthew Steinbrueck, the owner of Raven’s Nest Treasure, told investigators that the artists instructed him they were tribal associates and that he believed them, according to the documents. He said he did not knowingly sell counterfeit Indian products.

“I’ve been carrying out this on very good religion for quite a few decades — for more than 30 several years,” Steinbrueck explained to The Involved Push on Friday. “Our total mission is to signify authentic Native artwork. We have experienced far more than 100 authentic Native artists. I have constantly just taken their term for it.”

He said his family members had a prolonged appreciation for American Indian lifestyle, relationship to when his good-grandfather adopted a tribal member. Steinbrueck’s father, Victor Steinbrueck, an architect credited with helping maintain Pike Area Marketplace and Seattle’s historic Pioneer Sq. community, introduced him up to revere Native society, he explained.

Van Dyke informed investigators that it was Steinbrueck’s idea to signify his get the job done as Indigenous American.

Steinbrueck denied that, expressing Van Dyke appeared to be seeking to lessen his personal culpability. He named Van Dyke “a fabulous carver” who designed art in the model of his wife’s Alaska Native tribe, like pendants carved from fossilized mammoth or walrus ivory.

Neither Ye Olde Curiosity Store nor Raven’s Nest has been billed in the circumstance.

Gabriel Galanda, an Indigenous legal rights attorney in Seattle who belongs to the Spherical Valley Tribes of Northern California, reported that if outlets supply products and solutions as Native-produced, they need to be verifying the heritage of the creators, these kinds of as by analyzing tribal enrollment playing cards or federal certificates of Indian blood.

“There has to be some diligence accomplished by these galleries,” Galanda said.

— The Related Push