A man from Washington State has been sentenced to two years in federal prison for selling objects produced in the Philippines and passing them off as Alaska Native works. He sold more than $1m worth of forgeries in violation of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990—a truth-in-advertising law that prohibits misrepresentation in the sale of Native American crafts throughout the US—going so far as to hire Alaska Native clerks in his stores to falsely represent his wares.
According to the US Attorney's Office in Alaska, Cristobal “Cris” Magno Rodrigo operated two companies based in Alaska between April 2016 and December 2021. The first, Alaska Stone Arts, sold mostly stone carvings, and the second, Rail Creek, dealt in wooden totem poles. Both the carvings and totem poles were sourced from Rodrigo Creative Crafts, a company owned and operated by Rodrigo's wife in the Philippines and created to produce knock-off Alaska Native objects. Rodrigo, who had worked in the Alaskan tourist trade for over 20 years, taught people at the company in the Philippines how to mimic the authentic styles and motifs of real Alaska Native objects. In 2019 and part of 2021, Rodrigo’s web of family-based companies sold over $1m in falsified products.
Rodrigo's two-year prison sentence is the longest anyone has received for this type of transgression, according to the Indian Arts and Crafts Board. (The second-longest is only 6 months.) Rodrigo is also required to donate $60,000 to the Tlingit and Haida Central Counsel Vocational Program, write an apology letter for publication in the Ketchikan Daily News and serve three years of supervised release. Cases involving Rodrigo’s co-conspirators, Glenda Tiglao Rodrigo and Christian Ryan Tiglao Rodrigo, are ongoing.
“The actions the defendant took to purposefully deceive customers and forge artwork is a cultural affront to Alaska Native artisans who pride themselves on producing these historical works of art, and negatively affects those who make a living practicing the craft,” said S. Lane Tucker, US Attorney for the District of Alaska, in a statement.
The Indian Arts and Crafts board director, Meridith Stanton, concurred: “Mr. Rodrigo’s sentencing should send a strong message to those who prey upon authentic Alaska Native artists and vulnerable consumers that this destructive conduct will not be tolerated, and act violators will be held accountable."
Rodrigo is far from the only person caught violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act this year. In July, a souvenir store in Alaska was sued for selling goods from Nepal, India and Thailand as "Native art" and "made in Alaska". And in May, a Seattle-based artist who falsely claimed Indigenous heritage was sentenced to 18 months of probation.