A case of cultural appropriation has come to light, revealing a deceptive scheme that took place in Ketchikan, Alaska. Cristobal "Cris" Magno Rodrigo, a Washington state man, has been sentenced to two years in prison for his involvement in a million-dollar art fraud. His stores, Alaska Stone Arts LLC and Rail Creek LLC, located in the popular tourist-cruise destination, claimed to sell authentic native Alaskan artwork created by a local Tlingit family using indigenous materials.
Prosecutors have unveiled shocking details of Rodrigo's illegal operation. The artworks sold in his stores, including stone carvings and totem poles, were not actually crafted by the local Tlingit family as advertised. Instead, they were mass-produced at a factory in the Philippines, owned by Rodrigo's wife.
Over the span of two years, from 2019 to 2021, these stores managed to generate over $1 million in revenue from unsuspecting buyers. The prices of the counterfeit pieces reached thousands of dollars each, making the scheme highly profitable.
What makes this case particularly disconcerting is that Rodrigo himself had worked as a carver for native art businesses in Ketchikan for two decades. This history added an air of credibility to his venture, allowing him to deceive customers effectively. Court documents revealed that Rodrigo recruited native Alaskans and non-Alaskan natives to work in his stores, presenting themselves as a local family of skilled carvers.
The ramifications of cultural appropriation, perpetuated by individuals like Rodrigo, disrespects both the indigenous Alaskan culture and the immense skill of true native artists. This case serves as a reminder of the importance of preserving and respecting cultural heritage while upholding authenticity in the world of art.
Protecting Native Art: A Landmark Case
A Violation of Indian Arts and Crafts Acts
Misrepresenting artwork as being created by native hands is not only deceptive but also illegal. The Indian Arts and Crafts acts serve as a safeguard against false advertising of such work as genuine. In a recent case, this violation resulted in a historic two-year prison term – the harshest sentence ever given for such an offense.
A Blow to Alaska Natives
Federal prosecutors argued that this type of offense directly impacts Alaska Natives, who invest countless hours in producing their exceptional goods. Genuine artists' livelihoods are undermined by the sale of counterfeit artwork. The implications are far-reaching, as it deprives these hardworking individuals of their rightful income.
After his arrest earlier this year, Rodrigo pleaded guilty to the charges brought against him. In addition to the prison sentence, he agreed to make a generous $60,000 donation to vocational programs run by the esteemed Tlingit and Haida Central Council. Furthermore, Rodrigo will publish a letter of apology in the reputable Ketchikan Daily News, expressing his remorse and accepting responsibility for his actions.
Ongoing Cases: The Family Connection
It is important to note that Rodrigo's wife, Glenda Tiglao Rodrigo, aged 46, and their son Christian Ryan Tiglao Rodrigo, aged 24, were also charged in relation to this case. The proceedings against them are still ongoing, awaiting resolution. At the time of writing, their representative had not provided a response.
This landmark case not only serves as a significant deterrent but also highlights the importance of protecting the artistic heritage of indigenous communities. It is a step towards ensuring fair compensation for authentic Native artwork and securing an honorable future for traditional artisans.