Although this has nothing to do directly with Native American Jewelry, I thought it would be interesting because so many Native American artists live in remote areas as well as we here at horsekeeping.
Here is a little look at parts of our life here in the wild wild west.
The following article includes excerpts from an article by John Clarke
former Larimer County Commissioner
With comments and additions from me, Paula in turquoise !
“The Code of the West was first chronicled by the famous western writer, Zane Grey. The men and women who came to this part of the country during the westward expansion of the United States were bound by an unwritten code of conduct. The values of integrity and self reliance guided their decisions, actions and interactions. In keeping with that spirit, we offer this information to help citizens who wish to follow in the footsteps of those rugged individualists by living outside city limits.
It is important for you to know that life in the country is different from life in the city. County governments are not able to provide the same level of service that city governments provide. To that end, we are providing you with the following information to help you make an educated and informed decision to purchase rural land.
The fact that you can drive to your property does not necessarily guarantee that you, your guests and emergency service vehicles can achieve that same level of access at all times. Please consider:
1.1 – Emergency response times (Sheriff, fire suppression, medical care, etc.) cannot be guaranteed. Under some extreme conditions, you may find that emergency response is extremely slow and expensive.”
Rural citizens must accept responsibility for their own security, fire safety, and first aid.
Because of our remote location and the presence of mountains and other obstructions, we do not have cell signal. That means no cell phones.
“You can experience problems with the maintenance and cost of maintenance of your road. Larimer County maintains 1103 miles/1775 kilometers of roads, but many rural properties are served by private and public roads which are maintained by private road associations. There are even some county roads that are not maintained by the county – no grading or snow plowing. There are even some public roads that are not maintained by anyone! Make sure you know what type of maintenance to expect and who will provide that maintenance.”
Here are some views of our local roads
“1.7 – In extreme weather, even county maintained roads can become impassable. You may need a four wheel drive vehicle with chains for all four wheels to travel during those episodes, which could last for several days.”
“1.11 – Unpaved roads are not always smooth and are often slippery when they are wet. You will experience an increase in vehicle maintenance costs when you regularly travel on rural county roads.”
It is a 30 mile round trip to our local rural post office, an 80 mile round trip to town.
Residents of the country usually experience more problems when the elements and earth turn unfriendly. Here are some thoughts for you to consider.
4.1 – The physical characteristics of your property can be positive and negative. Trees are a wonderful environmental amenity, but can also involve your home in a forest fire. Building at the top of a forested draw should be considered as dangerous as building in a flash flood area. Defensible perimeters are very helpful in protecting buildings from forest fire and inversely can protect the forest from igniting if your house catches on fire. If you start a forest fire, you are responsible for paying for the cost of extinguishing that fire.”
“4.5 – The topography of the land can tell you where the water will go in the case of heavy precipitation. When property owners fill in ravines, they have found that the water that drained through that ravine now drains through their house.”
“4.8 – Nature can provide you with some wonderful neighbors. Most, such as deer and eagles are positive additions to the environment. However, even “harmless” animals like deer can cross the road unexpectedly and cause traffic accidents. Rural development encroaches on the traditional habitat of coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, prairie dogs, bears, mosquitoes and other animals that can be dangerous and you need to know how to deal with them. In general, it is best to enjoy wildlife from a distance and know that if you do not handle your pets and trash properly, it could cause problems for you and the wildlife.”
Here are some of our closest neighbors……..
The people who tamed this wild land brought water to the barren, arid east slope of the Rockies through an ingenious system of water diversion. This water has allowed agriculture to become an important part of our environment.
5.7 – Colorado has an open range law. This means if you do not want cattle, sheep or other livestock on your property, it is your responsibility to fence them out. It is not the responsibility of the rancher to keep his/her livestock off your property.”
These grounds are sacred to many people because the pipestone quarried here is carved into pipes used for prayer. Many believe that the pipe’s smoke carries one’s prayer to the Great Spirit. The traditions of quarrying and pipemaking continue here today.
Located in rural southwestern Minnesota, the pipestone quarries are considered a sacred site by many American Indians. For the last 5,000 years or more, tribes across the central region of North America have traveled to this site to quarry. Today, they still travel long distances to this site to continue the tradition of pipestone quarrying and pipe making. Since 1946, the 56 active pipestone quarry pits have been managed by issuance of a quarry permit.
Pipestone quarrying is often an underappreciated part of the tradition surrounding pipe making. The task of extracting pipestone from the earth is slow and laborious using hand tools not much more advanced than the tools and methods used in past millennia. The process can require many days of physical labor with only sledgehammers, pry bars, chisels, wedges, and steel bars allowed. Good physical condition is a prerequisite.
A cross-section view of a quarry showing the layers of earth and quartzite that needs to be removed before reaching the layer of pipestone. Note that the pipestone seam is angled downward. Over time, the quarriers must remove more and more quartzite, one of the hardest rocks in the world, to continue extracting the pipestone.
Depending upon the specific quarry and amount of material extracted, experience has shown that quarrying time can be estimated at two to six weeks to reach the subsurface layer of pipestone. This pipestone lens is sandwiched between layers of very hard Sioux Quartzite formation rock. Depending upon a quarry’s location along the quarry line, the upper levels of quartzite can be four to ten feet thick above the pipestone layer. Prairie plants and soil varying in depth from one to six feet cover the upper layer of quartzite.
Quarriers use shovels and wheelbarrows to dig up surface soils and glacial till. Then they dump it in rubble piles at the rear of the quarries. Subsequently, broken pieces of quartzite rock are also discarded.
The upper layer of quartzite is composed of multiple quartzite strata, with vertical fractures and cracks in the rock. Wedges or chisels are placed into these cracks can be driven down with sledge hammers to break apart loose individual quartzite blocks. Upon loosening a piece, it is worked free with a steel pry bar and allowed to drop to the floor of the quarry. Heavy sledge hammers are then used to break the bigger chunks of quartzite into smaller, more manageable pieces that can be lifted and thrown out of the back of the quarry. The process of breaking out the quartzite is repeated many times until the pipestone layer is exposed.
See the slide show below which shows the blessing and quarrying of the pipestone that is used to make the items in our store
The smaller pieces are also used in building a rock retaining wall along the front of the rubble pile. The rock wall serves as a barrier so that as additional quartzite and soil are thrown or stacked at the rear of the quarry, the rubble pile is prevented from collapsing back into the quarry. Building a sturdy retaining wall to keep rock and fill out of the pit is an essential part of managing a quarry and a very important protective safeguard for quarriers.
Sacred Catlinite Ceremonial Necklace
Once the pipestone is exposed, care must be taken in removing the stone as it is very fragile and when handling large slabs it can break. The pipestone layer may vary from 10 to 18 inches thick and it too is composed of multiple layers from 1 ½ to 3 inches thick. Individual layers are carefully removed one slab at a time by driving wedges into the natural horizontal seams. The natural vertical cracks in the quartzite carry down through the pipestone, which allows the quarrier to remove the pipestone layers in irregularly-shaped slabs or tabular blocks.
Raven Effigy Pipe
The quarry pits are located in the bottom of a bowl-shaped drainage. In the spring and early summer months groundwater from rain and snow melt collects in this low lying area, filling the quarries with water. Most quarriers prefer to work during the summer to late fall months to avoid the groundwater problems. Monument staff will assist quarriers by pumping water out of the quarries, but only two days ahead of when quarrying is planned. Often, when it is high, groundwater will flow back into the quarries as fast as it is pumped out. Since continued pumping will not reduce the water level, it will not be attempted during these periods when groundwater is high.
Early on in my collecting of Native American bracelets, I was handed a contemporary Zuni needlepoint bracelet by the maker and was told “this is a sweater bracelet”.
Zuni needlepoint sweater bracelet by Jenny Eustace
I had never heard that term before and am a firm believer in “if you don’t know, ask”, so I asked and was told it is a style of bracelet where a design element has a “drop” – that is, it drops down so it lays on the back of the wearer’s hand and can peek out of the lower edge of a long-sleeved sweater cuff. Well that made perfect sense so I have used the term ever since.
A more subtle sweater bracelet by Jenny Eustace
Here is another example of a sweater bracelet by a Navajo artist.
Petit Point sweater bracelet by Navajo Betty Etisitty
Some sweater bracelets can be quite dramatic in how much silver and stone is “dropped” onto the back of the hand.
Unmarked NOS (New Old Stock) sweater bracelet
Unmarked vintage sterling silver and turquoise sweater bracelet
Here is a versatile sweater bracelet – you can decide which color you want to peek out.
Unmarked vintage petit point sweater bracelet in turquoise and coral
Some bracelets made a gentle downward sweep at the cuff.
Tommy Jackson, Navajo
Silver sweater bracelets often come to a point as they drop.
Rare, One of a Kind, Museum Quality Apache Devil Dancer Set
by Navajo artist Ernest Shirley
This 7-piece three dimensional figural overlay/inlay set includes:
– one concho belt
– 2-piece man’s set: bracelet and ring
– 4-piece woman’s set: bracelet, pendant, and two rings
– certificates of authenticity
– materials include Sleeping Beauty Turquoise, mother of pearl, jet, coral, and sterling silver
Post card titled
“Devil Dance of the Apache Indians from the 1930’s”
Conchos are currently on a double leather belt that is 1 5/8″ wide and 38″ long from buckle to end of leather. Holes are punched at 34″ to 36″. 526 grams.
Buckle is 3″ x 2 5/8″.
Notice the 3-dimensional quality of the stone inlay and overlay on all pieces.
Each concho has a copper belt loop.
Holes are punched at 34″ to 36′
Certificate of Authenticity for concho belt.
Eight conchos are 2″ x 2 1/4″.
4-Piece Woman’s Set bracelet, pendant, and two rings
Bracelet, pendant and two rings.
Bracelet is 6 1/4″ total inside circumference, this includes the 1″ gap.
Bracelet 3 1/8″ tall at front, 11/16″ at ends.
This four-wire bracelet design is traditional Navajo and Zuni bracelet form that is open and airy allowing for ventilation and making the bracelet more comfortable to wear in hot and humid weather. Read more . . .
Certificates for woman’s bracelet, pendant and two rings.
Pendant 2 3/4″ x 2″, 32 grams.
Fixed stamped bail with 1/8″ opening,
Ring size 9. 2 1/2″ tall x 2″ wide. 36 grams.
Ring size 6, 2 1/8″ tall x 1 3/4″ wide.
2-Piece Man’s Set bracelet, pendant, and two rings
Man’s bracelet and ring.
Bracelet size 8 1/4″.
Bracelet is 3″ tall at the front to 11/16″ at ends.
Heavy man’s ring size 12 1/4 .
Ring is 1 3/8″ tall x 1″ wide. 47 grams.
This four-wire bracelet design is traditional Navajo and Zuni bracelet form that is open and airy allowing for ventilation and making the bracelet more comfortable to wear in hot and humid weather. Read more . . .
Sleeping Beauty Turquoise comes from one of the largest turquoise mines in North America located in Gila County, Arizona near the town of Globe. This turquoise is prized for its uniform blue color with little or no matrix that allows the stones to be easily matched and cut. It is the favorite stone of Zuni Pueblo silversmiths for use in petit point, needlepoint and inlay jewelry. Only 4% of the turquoise taken from the mine is left natural. Most is is enhanced or stabilized and sold to large distributors in the USA and Europe.
This beautiful pendant by Thomas Francisco is made with a piece of Sterling Opal.
Sterling Opal Pendant by Thomas Francisco
The information below is from the manufacturer’s website Sterling Opal
“Sterling Opal has created a new lab-cultured gemstone that combines the play of color and distinctiveness of genuine opal with the economic pricing of synthetic opal.
Over twenty years ago Jim Zachery, the developer of the Zachery Process for turquoise set out to develop a lab cultured opal. He tried to purchase silica from major manufacturers but found that none of them produced a silica product with the uniformity necessary to create quality opal. He had to take a step back and change his priorities from creating the perfect opal to creating the perfect silica.
It took him many years but he eventually developed a process to produce silica nano and micro spheres in commercial quantities with a polydispersity of .005 or better. This gave him the building blocks to begin development of a lab-grown opal. Nature’s ability to produce silica with the uniformity necessary to create opal is miraculous. It is only slightly less remarkable that man can achieve a very similar outcome in a laboratory.
About Our Cultured Opal
Until now, the only lab created opal available had very consistent domains and color. Most of this consistency in color is maintained by using dyes. While many colors are available in other synthetic opal because the color is produced by dye, each piece of opal only contains one color and not much “play of color” if any. In other words, the color doesn’t change or move with different angles of light. Sterling Opal will not use dye in their products; all color in Sterling Opal is the result of Bragg diffraction of visible light as occurs in natural opal. Furthermore, because their processes mimic nature, most pieces of opal have a diversity of color and depending on the angle of the light the opal will change color.
The beauty of Sterling Opal is that while they are able to settle large batches of opal that will all have a similar look, each piece of opal is still quite unique. The opal is grown mainly in 1½” x 2½” squares, in lots of approximately 4.5 kilos. This enables jewelry manufacturers and designers to create many pieces of jewelry that have a similar look yet each piece will be unique. It is the unique look and the brilliant play of color that sets Sterling Opal apart from any other lab grown opal manufacturer.
Sterling Opal is currently created in several distinct designs and color waves. Each of these styles is created using a different proprietary process. While all of the varieties have dazzling color they each have a distinct appearance. The designers at Sterling Opal continue to work on new processes that will result in original creations to rival natural opal in its color and individuality. The unique qualities of each stone in its variety of forms will enable jewelry designers to conceive unique jewelry pieces with brilliant opal at a fraction of the price of genuine opal.”
Biggest Fake Native American Art Conspiracy Revealed
Jewelry dealer Nael Ali will be the first defendant sentenced in the most extensive federal investigation into Indian arts and crafts fraud.
By Maraya Cornell
High on the Colorado Plateau in northwestern New Mexico, a dusty main road runs through the Pueblo of Zuni. Pull over to the side, and someone in threadbare clothing will soon approach your window holding out a mysterious little box. In Los Angeles, where I live, such an offering could only mean trouble, and you’d be wise to roll up the window and make a quick getaway. But here in the homeland of the Zuni people, it’s safe to take a look. The box is lined with soft cloth, and in it you’ll find an exquisite creation this person made with his own hands—a travertine animal carving, silver earrings inlaid with the Zuni sun face motif, a corn maiden pendant of carved shell.
The Zuni people rely heavily on hard-won earnings from handmade jewelry and crafts. The tourism department of Zuni Pueblo estimates that 80 percent of working adults there make arts and crafts for sale. Yet it’s getting harder and harder for them to make a living.
For as long as the Zunis and other indigenous artisans have sold their crafts, they’ve been undercut by fakes—nonnatives posing as Indians to sell more of their work, factory made goods sold as handmade. But today’s fakes include a virtual torrent of knockoffs cheaply manufactured overseas and masquerading as genuine Native made—baskets made in Pakistan sold as Navajo, beadwork made in China sold as Plains Indian, Hopi katsina dolls cranked out in the Philippines—none more profitable than counterfeit Indian jewelry.
The insult isn’t just financial. “Our arts and crafts give us a really concrete way to stay connected to our culture and our history,” says Navajo jeweler Liz Wallace. “All this fake stuff feels like a very deep personal attack.”
But even though the rampant sale of counterfeits in the Southwest has been widely acknowledged for decades—and has ties to organized crime, according to affidavits by federal investigators—only recently has the U.S. government taken any serious action to shut down the major operators. Whether the crackdown has teeth will be tested in New Mexico in April, when Albuquerque jewelry dealer Nael Ali will be sentenced for fraudulently selling imported jewelry as Native American made.
Ali, the owner of several retail stores in Albuquerque’s Old Town district, pleaded guilty on October 18, 2017, to misrepresenting as Native-made jewelry sourced from two family-run networks he said were supplying him with counterfeit jewelry made in the Philippines. These two networks make for the largest Native American art fraud conspiracy ever brought to light.
Ali’s sentencing is the first in the ongoing federal investigation called Operation Al Zuni, which began in March 2012, and is the most extensive ever conducted into Native American art fraud.
The investigation was named Operation Al Zuni after Al Zuni Global Jewelry, a well-known business in Gallup, New Mexico, owned by Nashat Khalaf, a Palestinian immigrant and prominent Indian arts dealer. Al Zuni, which claims to be the “largest wholesaler of Indian jewelry serving the Southwest since 1977,” has its storefront in Gallup but also sells at gem and jewelry trade shows where retailers from all over the country buy inventory.
Misrepresenting arts and crafts, including jewelry, for sale as Native made when they’re not is a federal crime under a law passed in 1935 called the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. The act provides for penalties of up to $250,000 and five years in jail for first time offenders, but until now it has rarely been enforced. Federal law also requires that “Indian-style” products imported into the United States be permanently marked with the country of origin. That law too has been widely flouted.
It has been estimated that the Native American arts and crafts industry brings in more than a billion in gross sales annually nationwide. And although many would say that not enough profits have ever reached the artists, the sale of handmade jewelry, baskets, pottery, carved figurines, beaded leather, and other crafts provide livelihoods for thousands of indigenous people.
According to federal investigators, the two families running counterfeiting networks are both Palestinian, known to law enforcement as the Sterling Coalition and the Aysheh brothers. The Sterling Coalition, the larger of the two, operates an importing company in Albuquerque called Sterling Islands, which is owned by Nashat Khalaf’s brother, Jawad Khalaf, and niece, Sheda Khalaf.
In affidavits filed in support of 18 search warrants executed in October of 2015, investigators name these and other members of the Khalaf family, and associates, as participants in a scheme to import and fraudulently sell counterfeit Native American jewelry manufactured in a factory in the Philippines called “Fashion Accessories 4 U.” Jawad Khalaf and his son, Nader, have owned the factory since at least 2006. None of the Khalafs has been charged yet.
Albuquerque lawyer John Boyd, who represents Nashat Khalaf and Al Zuni Global Jewelry, calls the allegations against his client “wrong.” The business and its owner, he said in an email, “have supported Native American artisans for decades, maintain good relationships with them and provide the most important outlet in the area for Native Americans to sell their work. Al Zuni and Khalaf deny that they have ever attempted to pass off or have passed off any jewelry as Native American, Navajo, Zuni, Hopi, or any other tribe, when it is not.”
Mark Baker, another Albuquerque lawyer, who represents Jawad Khalaf and Sterling Islands, emailed that his clients “certainly deny that they violated the law or otherwise engaged in any deceitful conduct. This is a family of people known in the community as honest and responsible.”
Law enforcement estimates that Sterling Islands has imported into the U.S. contraband jewelry worth $11,800,000 in wholesale value between October 2010 and October 2015. According to court records, retail buyers and wholesalers would place orders for replicas of particular pieces of genuine jewelry and pick them up at Sterling Islands.
The four Aysheh brothers running the other alleged conspiracy—Imad, Nedal, Iyad, and Raed—were charged in February 2017. Their trial is scheduled for October of this year. None has yet entered a plea.
In October 2015, when Operation Al Zuni went public, 11 jewelry and Indian arts stores were raided in New Mexico and California, including two of Nael Ali’s Albuquerque stores, Gallup 8 and Galleria Azul. The Indian Arts and Crafts Board estimated in 2016 that the retail value of the 350,000 pieces of jewelry seized during the raid exceeded $35 million.
Operation Al Zuni was conducted by the Office of Law Enforcement for the Southwest Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and funded through an agreement with the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior tasked with developing and promoting arts and crafts as a source of income for American Indians and Alaska Natives, as well as with enforcing the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.
MADE BY INDIANS?
In the Pueblo of Zuni, jeweler Roxanne Seoutewa sits in a folding chair at a cramped desk in a well-worn trailer, soldering tiny hand-made bezels to a piece of silver sheet. Into the bezels she’ll fit the seed-like stones she’s cut, sanded, and polished to form the close, stitch-like pattern known as needlepoint and recognized by collectors the world over as one of the classic Zuni styles of handmade jewelry.
Compared to artisans trying to sell their work on the street, Seoutewa is doing well. But she has to go farther and farther from home to get a decent price for her work. She doesn’t sell to the local shops in Zuni anymore, or even to the wholesalers 40 miles away in Gallup. The problem, she says, is all the cheaply made foreign imports illegally sold as Zuni handmade.
It was the arrival of the railroads in the Southwest at the turn of the 20th century that set off a roaring business in indigenous art and crafts, and the industry has been a defining presence in the Southwest ever since.
And it was a boom in the tourist industry along Route 66 in the 1960s and 70s that attracted fortune-seekers from the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank. In 1972 Nashat Khalaf and three of his brothers were among the first to arrive in Gallup, the wholesale center for the arts and crafts produced on nearby Indian reservations. They opened a business selling Zuni jewelry, calling it Al-Zuni Traders. As Khalaf told Al Jazeera years later, he and his brothers had such instant success in the jewelry business that they “called everybody” back home. “It was a bonanza,” he said. “It was a gold rush, and they all came here.” By 2002 several hundred Palestinians had settled in Gallup, most reportedly in the Indian jewelry business.
Today road trippers driving Interstate 40 through Arizona and New Mexico are bombarded with billboards hawking crafts “MADE BY INDIANS.” Much of what’s for sale hasn’t been made by Indians at all. Even Santa Fe, regarded as the heart of the high-end Indian art market with its world-renowned plaza shopping district, is rife with forgeries—so much so that the city recently announced an ordinance to try to rein in the fraud.
Higher-end jewelry knockoffs are copied from one-of-a-kind pieces by master Indian artisans and stamped with initials and symbols to mimic an artist’s hallmark. In stores the fakes are often mixed in with genuine pieces but sold at a discount, forcing jewelers who painstakingly craft each piece by hand to compete with counterfeits produced in sweatshops.
The Indian Arts and Crafts Board collects complaints about potential violations of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, but without a law enforcement bureau of its own, the board must rely on other agencies to investigate complaints. In 1990 a major overhaul of the act increased penalties for violations and gave the FBI primary responsibility for enforcing the law. But the FBI had other priorities, and the bureau generally declined referrals of potential violations from the board, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.
By late 2011 when the Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to look into fraudulently sold Indian arts and crafts, no jewelry dealers, or large-scale dealers in Indian arts and crafts of any kind, had been charged under the act. On several occasions during the 1990s and 2000s, New Mexico attorneys general sued jewelry stores in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, including several dealers identified by Operation Al Zuni as selling the Sterling Coalition’s Philippine counterfeits, but their suppliers were never identified. And even though the rampant sale of counterfeits in Arizona and New Mexico has been widely acknowledged for decades, no major counterfeiters had ever been charged.
Yet federal law enforcement had been alerted to at least one potential supplier as early as 1994, when the Arizona law firm Kirkpatrick & Kramer wrote to a Department of the Interior investigator on behalf of Hopi jeweler Jason Takala warning that “an outfit in eastern Gallup, New Mexico named ‘Al Zuni’ is mass-producing copies of original Native American jewelry.”
It wasn’t until nearly two decades later, after the Fish and Wildlife Service had taken over enforcement of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, that a piece of counterfeit Indian jewelry in a retail store was traced back to the Khalafs.
MAKING THE CASE
On November 26, 2012, a Monday, Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Russell Stanford walked into Gallery 8, an upscale jewelry shop in Albuquerque owned by Nael Ali. Posing as a jewelry dealer, Stanford bought two rings stamped with the initials CK, which the clerk told him stood for the Navajo artist Calvin Kee, according to court records. (There is no known Navajo jeweler named Calvin Kee.)
Later Stanford looked at the ring under an ultraviolet light and confirmed that it had come from the Khalafs’ factory in the Philippines: There were the dabs of otherwise invisible ink he’d applied to the ring two and a half months before when he intercepted a shipment of jewelry coming in from Fashion Accessories 4 U and bound for Sterling Islands.
In just months Stanford, working as the sole investigator on Operation Al Zuni (a second agent wasn’t added until June 2014) had done what no federal investigator had yet been able to do: substantiate a source for the high-end counterfeits that had been turning up in retail stores for decades.
Less than 30 days later, Gallery 8 was featured in a Christmas shopping guide in the Albuquerque Journal. Nael Ali claimed that he purchased all his jewelry, except for the Polish amber jewelry, directly from Native artists. “There’s no middleman for me,” he said.
Ali, along with Mohammad Manasra, a traveling jewelry seller (who Ali admitted in his plea agreement was indeed his middleman) were arrested in October 2015 in Operation Al Zuni’s initial take-down and became the first jewelry dealers ever to be charged with violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. (The charge against Manasra has been reduced to a misdemeanor, and he isn’t facing incarceration.)
In Nael Ali’s plea agreement, filed October 18, 2017, he admitted that the Philippine-based factories run by the Khalafs and the Aysheh brothers were the sources of counterfeits (some supplied through Mohammad Manasra) that he was fraudulently selling as Native made at Gallery 8 and at Galleria Azul, another store in Albuquerque. Ali confessed to mixing the knockoff jewelry with genuine Indian-made jewelry and ensuring “that none of the Philippine-made jewelry was marked with its country of origin.”
TAKING OUT THE THORN
The ongoing prosecutions against the alleged fraudsters in New Mexico are sending shockwaves through the Indian arts and crafts industry. Nidal Abdeljawad of All Tribes Trading Post, an Indian arts store in the Pueblo of Zuni, claims that Nashat Khalaf’s Al Zuni Global Jewelry supplies 90 percent of the retail stores in the U.S. that deal in Native art. “If this guy has to close his shop, it will be a disaster for the Native Americans,” Abdeljawad says.
Other Southwest dealers fear that prosecutions against business owners accused of peddling fakes make for bad publicity and that customers and collectors, concerned about getting ripped off, will avoid shopping for Indian arts and crafts altogether.
Justin Winfield, of Winfield Trading Company, a large buyer of Indian jewelry and crafts located on the highway between Gallup and Zuni, disagrees. Fanning out the thick stack of newspaper articles he’d collected since October 2015, he told me last July that he thought the ongoing prosecutions were already having a “positive impact”—that buyers for retail stores were taking greater care to ensure authenticity.
A few spooked customers in the short-term is a price Winfield is willing to pay if it means curbing the influx of fakes. “It hurts to take the thorn out,” he said. “But after it’s out, you can heal up.”
William Woody, who championed his agency’s investigations into Indian arts and crafts fraud when he was chief of law enforcement at the Fish and Wildlife Service, thinks Operation Al Zuni has “just scratched the surface.” At a Senate field hearing last July—Woody’s final day on the job—he said, “We have not begun to take a comprehensive look into the markets for other Native American items in the Southwest, including pottery, paintings, blankets, etc., where there is likely similar fraudulent activity.”
“In order for things to change,” wrote the editors of the Gallup Independent in October 2017, “the federal government, as well as attorneys general in states like New Mexico and Arizona, must get a lot tougher on these frauds.”
The sentencings of Nael Ali and Mohammad Manasra, who have confessed to knowingly dealing in fakes from both alleged networks, will test how tough New Mexico judges are willing to be. Manasra isn’t facing prison time. But Ali, who pleaded guilty to a felony, faces up to 18 months in prison and could be the first person ever to go to jail for violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.
Prosecutors have requested that the sentencing in Albuquerque of Ali and his co-defendant, Mohammad Manasra, be on the same day in April so that any Native American artisans who wish to be heard by the court won’t have to travel twice. “Now’s the time for these artists to come forward,” says Special Agent in Charge Nicholas Chavez, who supervised the Fish and Wildlife Service’s investigation.