For Business

How to support authentic Native sellers

A member of the Blackfeet Nation shares shopping tips for Native American Heritage Month.


Not too long ago, I flew into Santa Fe on a work trip. While leaving the airport, I spotted a small shop that claimed to sell authentic Indigenous goods. Curious, I went inside to take a peek. I was pleasantly surprised to see that almost every single piece of art included the name of the artist and clearly identified their tribal affiliation. They did have touristy items produced in places like China, but a majority of the merchandise on display was made by Native Americans in New Mexico.

This Santa Fe shop stands out as a great example of a store that supports authentic Native American arts and crafts, but unfortunately this often isn’t the case.

Recently in Seattle, where I live, a local artist pled guilty for misrepresenting himself as a Native American artist for more than a decade despite having no tribal lineage. He was prosecuted under the Indian Arts & Crafts Act, which forbids this type of fraud, and has since been sentenced to 18 months of federal probation.

For as long as I can remember, being a member of the Blackfeet Nation has been a core part of my identity. So these matters of authenticity and appropriation matter deeply to me. In my role as a Sr. Business Development Manager at Amazon, I work with Native-owned businesses to help them launch on

During Native American Heritage Month, shoppers might be searching for ways to support Native artisans and business owners. Consumers have to contend with cheap imitations, fake products, or sellers who fabricate Native heritage to profit off the good intentions of shoppers. To help shoppers support Native-owned businesses this month—and all year long—the following are five things to keep in mind.

1. Know the correct terminology

Nomenclature is important, so make an effort to understand the difference between terms like Indigenous, Native American, American Indian, and First Nations, as well as the names of specific tribes. Indigenous is an increasingly popular umbrella term that encompasses all people who are indigenous to the lands that they’re in. And Native American is focused on the United States, while First Nations represents Canada. Where possible, know when to search for artisans from a specific tribe because some people identify most with their tribal affiliation. For example, I’d say I’m a Blackfeet woman before saying I’m Native American. Don’t conflate the names of different tribes or treat them as a monolith because they’re all distinct and sovereign nations with their own cultures, artistic styles, and languages.

2. Be aware of cultural appropriation

The appropriation of Native American culture is so deeply ingrained in the marketplace that shoppers may not even realize when they’re participating in it. If you search online for Navajo blanket or Navajo rug, you immediately see mass-produced items from companies that have no affiliation with the tribe. The problem is so severe that Navajo Nation trademarked their name and has sued major retailers like Urban Outfitters for using their tribal name to market apparel. Shoppers should also be conscious of products that are labeled as Southwestern, since what’s referred to as Southwestern design is often Native American design that has been culturally appropriated. There are a lot of shoppers who love design motifs associated with the Southwest or the Pacific Northwest, but they have no knowledge of where these aesthetics originated from. People may think that buying imitations of Native work is a victimless crime, but what you’re doing is making it more difficult for members of the Indigenous communities to make a living with their work.

3. Do more research and ask questions

Shoppers can usually identify authentic Native work after deeper research, asking questions, and educating themselves on what they’re looking for. Fake Native American art is very lucrative and very pervasive, so consumers need to pay close attention to where items are being made and by whom. If a label says “Native-inspired,” that’s a clear indicator it has nothing to do with an actual Native tribe. If you’re shopping with a small business, check out their About Me page or their mission statement. Do they claim to be Native? If so, do they share their tribal affiliation? If a Native seller is selling Native arts and crafts, they’re usually proud of their tribal affiliation and they’ll make it easy to find. If not, you can always reach out and ask them directly. Marketplaces like Seattle-based Eighth Generation sell 100% Native-designed products.

4. Educate yourself on the challenges Native sellers face

There are many Native sellers who face unique hurdles when it comes to making their products and getting them to market. When it comes to sellers who live on a reservation, they deal with a huge access gap compared to Native sellers who don’t live on the reservation. They may not have high-speed internet. They may not have a physical address and need to drive hours into town to access postal services. The road my dad lives on isn’t recognized by the postal service. so he has to use a PO box. Shoppers may think of the United States as a developed country, but these sovereign nations are building their own infrastructure with limited resources, and it’s an uphill climb.

5. Shop these authentic Native sellers

For shoppers who don’t know where to look when it comes to Native-owned businesses, I have a few recommendations that are great places to start. So buy from these vetted Native American sellers, leave a review on Amazon, and share the brands within your networks.

Most importantly, remember to consider and support Native sellers even beyond Native American Heritage Month, because they need to make a living all year long, too. In Native American culture, there’s an idea called the Seventh Generation Principle, meaning that the actions and decisions we make should sustain those who come after us seven generations into the future. So by buying from Native-owned businesses we can ensure that the creativity and passion of Native people can be sustained for the next seven generations to come.

Kristen Upham