American Indian artist Peggy Fontenot, a member of the Patawomeck tribe, makes a living by selling her black-and-white photography and intricate beadwork at American Indian art markets across the country. A devotee of traditional techniques, she has received multiple awards at leading markets like the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles and the Heard Museum in Arizona, as well as at the Santa Fe Indian Market, where she’s displayed and sold her work for years.
But recent changes in the Santa Fe Indian Market’s eligibility rules mean Fontenot and artists like her can no longer participate. These new rules, which took effect sometime in the last year without explanation or warning, are not only unfair – they also conflict with the spirit of federal and New Mexico law.
Fontenot’s situation is particularly vexing since just weeks ago she prevailed in a court challenge to a similarly unfair Oklahoma law that restricted her rights to free expression and to make a living. Despite that victory, she still finds herself blocked from selling her artwork in some American Indian marketplaces.
Under the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts’ (SWAIA) new rules, only members of federally recognized tribes are permitted to display at the Santa Fe market. The problem is that Fontenot is a member of the state-recognized Patawomeck tribe in Virginia and certified as an artisan by the federally recognized Citizen Potawatomi Nation.