Culture & Lifestyle

Alaska Indigenous group, Neiman Marcus settle lawsuit over coat

JUNEAU —
An Alaska Indigenous cultural organization and the luxury department store Neiman Marcus have settled a lawsuit over the sale of a coat with a copyrighted, geometric design borrowed from Indigenous culture.

The Sealaska Heritage Institute said in a statement on Wednesday that both sides, including 10 other named defendants besides Neiman Marcus, agreed to terms “to resolve all disputes between them under U.S. and Tlingit law,” KTOO Public Media reported.

The Juneau-based institute is the cultural arm of the Sealaska Corp., the Alaska Indigenous corporation for the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people of southeast Alaska.

In the federal lawsuit filed in April 2020, the institute maintained that the Dallas-based retailer falsely linked the $2,555 “Ravenstail” coat to northwest coast native artists from California to Alaska through the design and use of the term Ravenstail.

Sealaska said it discovered that the retailer was selling the coat in 2019.

The institute in its lawsuit said the Ravenstail term and style has been associated for hundreds of years with Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian tribes.

According to the lawsuit, the coat also mimics a Ravenstail robe created by a Tlingit weaver nearly a quarter century ago.

The lawsuit says Neiman Marcus violated the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act requiring that products marketed as “Indian” are actually made by Indigenous people.

Neither Neiman Marcus nor its Alaska-based attorneys in the lawsuit immediately responded to emails from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Sealaska said the Neiman Marcus robe violates the copyright of Clarissa Rizal, a master weaver who created the Ravenstail robe in 1996. When she died in 2016, her family obtained the rights to the robe, Sealaska’s lawyer Jacob Adams said.

In 2019, Rizal’s heirs registered the robe with the U.S. copyright office, the lawsuit said. The copyright was then exclusively licensed to Sealaska.

Adams told the Juneau public radio station that the terms of the settlement were confidential but that some effects of it may become public.

“There are conditions that are being met to meet the Tlingit law aspect and cultural requirement aspect,” Adams said. “So, in the future, some things may be seen as a result of the settlement.”


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