Fake Indian Terry Lee Whetstone Convicted Under Indian Arts and Crafts Act

Artist Terry Lee Whetstone at work, in a photo recovered from his website, cached at archive.org.

Fake Indian Terry Lee Whetstone Convicted Under Indian Arts and Crafts Act

Terry Lee Whetstone, 63, of Odessa, Missouri has pled guilty to a criminal complaint charging that he falsely claimed to be a Cherokee artist to sell his artwork. In a press release, Tammy Dickinson, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, indicated that the prosecution was in response to a complaint to the Indian Arts and Crafts Board.

When the Cherokee Nation verified that Whetstone was not enrolled, an undercover officer purchased a print from Whetstone’s website and received a brochure entitled, “Cherokee Artist.” Whetstone was selling at powwows and art fairs using a fraudulent Cherokee Nation card.

In a plea bargain with the U.S. Attorney, Whetstone received three years in prison, probated subject to some detailed conditions.

Whetstone may not sell art during the term of his probation without affirmatively stating to the buyer that he is not Indian.

Whetstone must take down his website and refrain from advertising or promoting his artwork in any way during the term of his probation.

Whetstone is prohibited from performing flute music publicly during the term of his probation unless he states to the audience that he is not a member of an Indian tribe.

Ironically, the work that brought the complaint against Whetstone for being a fake Cherokee was a Pendleton blanket design, “The Record Keeper,” that appeared to misappropriate a Hopi image.

A first offense criminal violation under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act is punishable by a prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to $250,000. State recognized tribes are covered under the Act and Whetstone was reputed to be a member of the “Northern Cherokee Nation,” which is not state recognized but says on its website: “The Northern Cherokee Nation is recognized by the State of Missouri as a 501(c)3 not-for-profit charitable organization.”

Even that is a bit misleading, since 501(c)3 refers to a charitable exemption in the federal Tax Code, not a law of the state of Missouri. According to the master list maintained by the National Conference of State Legislatures, Missouri recognizes no Indian tribes except those recognized by the federal government.

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