Acquittal just the beginning
As many of you know, I have been a part of Skagway for more than 30 years; meeting my husband, Karl, here in 1983, working for the National Park Service until 1985, giving birth to my first child at the clinic in 1988, and opening Lynch and Kennedy Dry Goods in 1993. I have spent my adult life here in this amazing community.
I love what I do. When we opened Lynch and Kennedy, I quickly learned that it was the perfect way for me to continue to use my degree in art and to share the wonder and beauty of Alaskan art and culture with the many visitors we get in Skagway. I love talking (as many of you probably know!) to both the cruise ship passengers and independent travelers. For me, sharing the stories of the Alaskan art in our store (both native and non-native) with customers is an additional way of telling visitors more about the incredible culture of Alaska.
Over the course of the last two years, undercover agents from U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service visited the store multiple times with hidden recording devices in an attempt to find violations. In March of this year (2016), I was charged criminally with one count of knowingly misrepresenting Native Art via the federal Indian Arts and Craft Act of 1990.
On Friday, September 4th, 12 jurors in Juneau federal court, unanimously found me NOT GUILTY of this charge. There was no evidence to support this charge against me, as determined by this impartial jury.
This has been a very difficult six months for us: our five kids, our extended families and our employees.
But as Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity”. I have come away with several truths.
First, there is great support in the community of Skagway. I have immense gratitude to those who supported my family during this time. While true – and part of our American democracy – believing “one is innocent until proven guilty” is not always the first instinct of some people. Thank you for standing by us. It means the world to us.
Secondly, the Indian Arts and Crafts Act needs to be improved so no other legitimate businesses (here in Skagway and other parts of Alaska and elsewhere) get swept up in the vagueness of this act. The failure of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board “to promulgate guidelines for … purveyors” as directed by the 106th Congress in 2000, allows for innocent people to be wrongly charged and needs to be changed.
I firmly believe that the misrepresentation of ANY product (art, jewelry etc.) hurts EVERYONE – the customer, the artist and the retailer, as well as our community. It creates an environment of distrust and uncertainty that discourages sales. It is especially damaging in the travel industry where customers have limited local knowledge and rely heavily on the retailer for the truth. The diversity of retailers in tourist locations also contributes to this need for clarity of the law and an atmosphere of unwavering honesty and transparency.
Thirdly, there is a potential unintended consequence for the Alaskan Native artist as a result of the vagueness of the Indian Arts and Craft Act as it stands now. The vagueness of the act can lead to overzealous prosecution which will cause retailers to fear selling any Native Alaskan art for fear of the law. This is the exact opposite intention of the act and may hurt Alaskan Native artisans.
I hope to speak at an upcoming Assembly meeting about ways the community of Skagway can be a leader in improving truth in advertising laws such as the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. I hope you will join me in making changes that help all of us.
Rosemary Libert (Klupar)