Tell Pendleton to Stop Using Stolen Native American Designs- CONGRESS MUST ACT NOW!

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Pendleton Woolen Mills has recently started going after small Native American and First Nations businesses. Many of these businesses are only selling products that have been available on the market for many years, or are creating products with geometric time-honored Native designs.

But Pendleton thinks they can copyright designs they stole from Native Americans. 

In the early 1900's, Pendleton sent Joe Rawnsley, an Englishman with a drinking problem, to reservations in the Northwest and the Southwest. Rawnsley spent months copying Native beadwork, weaving, quillwork, and tipi designs, particularly paying attention to which ones the Natives used most so he could incorporate those designs into Pendleton blankets. Rawnsley was an awful man, and many accounts of him recollect him being drunk most of the time- which is why there are few photos of him, as he was rarely sober. Pendleton thinks Native communities have forgotten their experiences with Joe Rawnsley, but just like boarding schools, the damage he did while he was living among the tribes and stealing from them is everlasting.

In Pendleton's own catalogs in the early 1900's through the 1930's they wrote (taken from 1915 Pendleton Catalog in the Pendleton Archives)

"Pendleton Indian Robes are made in more than a score of different designs, every one of which is a TRUE INDIAN PATTERN, original and unique in conception.”

Rawnsley wasn't Native, and had never been around Natives until Pendleton hired him, and Pendleton had no problem taking his stolen designs and admitting to the public they were true Indian patterns- because they weren't original conceptions by Rawnsley. In fact, in the same catalog, Pendleton bragged that they had Natives bring the designs they liked into their mills and weave them into blankets. They subsequently sold these blanket designs and filed for copyright so no one else could use them. Today, Pendleton still sells derivatives of those designs and make's $150 million a year in sales. 

Natives in the US and Canada in recent years have realized that several of Pendleton's historical blankets have designs that were copied from artifacts that are in museums across both countries long before Pendleton ever existed. Pendleton's most popular seller is a design stolen from the beadwork and tipi design of a prominent Blackfoot chief. Coincidentally, in the 1930's, Pendleton came out with a Blackfoot Robe collection. They weren't even trying to hide that they were stealing. It is no coincidence that Joe Rawnsley met Blackfoot Natives in the early 1900's on a few separate occasions when they were in the US with their Blackfeet counterparts.

If you go to the reservations today and speak to the descendants of the Native families he was around, you'll hear stories of numerous sexual assaults- likely when he was drunk as the vast majority of sexual assaults against Native women at the time and still to this day are committed by drunk non-Natives.

In 1935, Congress had to create the Indian Arts and Crafts Act to protect individual Indian artists in the United States from opportunist companies like Pendleton. The Congress realized companies like Pendleton were profiting from falsely suggesting their items were Indian made- or even worse, that they were stolen Native designs made by non-Indians. While that stopped Pendleton from legally being able to sell their blankets as "Indian blankets", "Indian robes", or as "authentic Indian designs", they still carried on illegally for decades. Only a few years ago, Pendleton was fined $41,500 by the US government for stealing a traditional Lakota design and making it into blankets and falsely suggesting the design was made by Lakota artists. Now, Pendleton hires Native American artists to design a single blanket, but doesn't pay them anywhere near what they pay their non-Native design team who has created hundreds of stolen Native designs for blankets.

Time and time again, Pendleton has taken, and now it's trying to shut down legitimate Native American and First Nations businesses. It's time for Pendleton to stop stealing Native designs and copyrighting them.

Currently, Pendleton has at least 566 Native American specific designs that it has copyrighted and no one else can use- including Native Americans. These designs include Cherokee basketwork, Choctaw Brother of War symbols, Lakota designs, as well as numerous Southwestern, Coastal, and Plateau designs that are taken directly from pottery, beadwork, quillwork, historical artifacts, motifs and symbols that belonged to tribes for hundreds, if not thousands of years before Pendleton stole them. Every year, Pendleton files for copyright protection for approximately 50 to 100 Native designs it has taken from Native Americans. What does this mean? It means that if a Cherokee basket maker makes a basket with the Cherokee basket design that Pendleton has copyrighted, Pendleton can sue them.

The designs that Pendleton produces that are made by non-Natives are labeled as Native American-inspired, which is still a violation of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act and amendments thereto. 

In 2011, a Pendleton representative, Robert Christnacht said “We take a lot of our INDIAN DESIGNS, and we’ll keep the same basic designs, but we’ll change the coloration, with the thought that one will be a RESERVATION DESIGN, one will be a couture design, and one will be a mainstream American design. We’re already the gold standard down on the reservation, so I don’t think that a Levi’s collaboration will change the perception of Pendleton in the Native American community.” 

 We just have a couple of questions for Mr. Christnacht from Pendleton…

 What are "YOUR INDIAN DESIGNS"?

What is a "RESERVATION DESIGN"? Why is a "RESERVATION DESIGN" not good enough for your couture collections? Why is a "RESERVATION DESIGN" not good enough for your "mainstream American" collection? Are Natives from reservations not mainstream enough for you? We realize you don't want your upper class non-Native customers associated with the poorest demographic in the United States. 

The United States Congress, President Trump, and the Department of Interior need to stop this and give tribes the power to copyright their designs with retroactive protections from cultural thieves like Pendleton. 

Pendleton has high-dollar lawyers that can push Native businesses around, but some things are sacred and can't be taken. Native designs belong to Native American tribes from which they came, and if Pendleton is going to steal designs from Natives, it needs to pay the tribes it's taking the designs from, but only after it receives consent to use the designs for commercial purposes. We believe in free expression, but stealing and appropriating cultural-specific motifs and symbols are not forms of free expression. 

Sadly, Pendleton has pulled the "wool" over a large portion of America's eyes. Aside from stealing designs, Pendleton has had numerous run-ins with the EPA (records available online), been cited for horrific safety violations at it's mills in recent years, and has contributed huge sums to anti-Indian politicians in the US. All of this data is available online, but through it's high-profile public relations campaigns, and forced settlement and non-disclosure agreements, it has been able to avoid the spotlight. 

Now it's time for Pendleton to have all the spotlight it wants.

 



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