Author Topic: Who has the right to a native name?  (Read 8628 times)


  • Guest
Who has the right to a native name?
« on: August 29, 2005, 07:46:09 pm »
*my note: (perhaps the name: Janet Rounsville belongs on your page of frauds?  THIS really is cultural theft! )

Beware: Not All Terms are Fair Game

A Native-American journalist asks: Who has the right to a native name?
by Paula Peters

As news writers we have come to expect that many of our stories will stir up a bit of controversy, inspiring healthy debate in our communities. But some stories are by design to inform, educate and entertain in a rather benign way. We can relax while writing them and feel like we are doing a real service to a broad spectrum of the readership.

That is exactly what I believed I was doing earlier this year when writing a feature story for the Cape Cod Times based in Hyannis, Massachusetts. It was about Wampanoag tribal members on Cape Cod and the island of Martha's Vineyard reviving the ancient tradition of making wampum jewelry. The beads tediously hewn from chips of quahog shell were greatly valued and traded among the Algonquin tribes in the northeast for hundreds of years. The strands of beads became the first form of legal currency for colonists in the 1600s. The word wampum became synonymous with money even as glass beads and western style Indian jewelry gained in popularity and the wampum jewelry tradition waned.

But in recent years the rich purple hinge of the hard shell clam has emerged from the sea like a new found pearl and native artisans are sought after for the authentic article, wampum jewelry made by Wampanoag craftsmen.

No sooner did the story hit the pages of the Cape Cod Times, did my editors receive a call from a non-native woman named Janet Rounsville, owner of Yankee Crafter's Inc. in Yarmouth, Mass. Darn if she didn't trademark the term "wampum jewelry" and was irate the news article used the term amply and did not mention her name once.

While I am aware of several non-native people who make wampum jewelry, and in fact mentioned some of them in the story, I had never heard of Mrs. Rounsville. But a quick check of the U.S. Patent and Trademark office Web site confirmed the woman had indeed trademarked the term.

As a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe I was personally perplexed. I asked the trademark office how could such a thing happen? How could a word and term of our language as common as cottage cheese be given over exclusively to a white woman and denied to us forever?

Believe me, as the tribe with the infamous distinction of having welcomed the Pilgrims in 1620, we are accustomed to having things taken from us. But our language, and specifically the word wampum and the jewelry made from it has spiritual significance the likes of which Mrs. Rounsville will never realize. You see when I called her to ask her if she felt any remorse for taking the word, she said absolutely not. A Cape craftsman who also uses the quahog shell to make jewelry she applied for the term fair and square and now it's hers. She even advertised the application as required by law in the U.S. Patent and Trademark journal which lands on the desks of lawyers and bureaucrats all over the country. The Wampanoag are not on the mailing list.

The process made the term hers all right, but Mrs. Rounsville wasn't going to be entirely selfish with it.

"If the tribe wants their word back, they can buy it from me," she told me.

Tribal attorneys have advised us we can challenge the trademark in court and would likely win after a costly battle, or simply continue to use the term liberally.

Wampum jewelry, wampum jewelry, wampum jewelry...

see also: "The Wampum Company"

* my note: (google serach of "wampum jewelry" returns 807 pages and wampum jewelry returns 19,900 pages*  It's pretty much impossible to tell who is authentic and who is not.)

Search for "Yankee Crafters".....included these links

Yankee Crafters Inc.
48 N. Main St., South Yarmouth• (508) 394-0575

Thousands of pieces of handcrafted wampum (cylindrical beads made from shells, once used by Native Americans as ornaments and currency) jewelry--rings, pins, earrings, and bolas--are offered at very reasonable prices. Also among the collections are Scandinavian jewelry, linens, calendars, crystal, and Norwegian trolls. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Yankee Crafters is open daily.

Yankee Crafters Scandanavian Imports Inc
48 North Main Street, South Yarmouth, MA 02664
Tel: (508) 394-0575

South Yarmouth, MA 02664-3149
Voice:  508-394-0575
Fax:  508-760-2439
Product:  Costume jewelry

Offline AlaskaGrl

  • Posts: 195
Re: Who has the right to a native name?
« Reply #1 on: August 29, 2005, 08:14:58 pm »
Wampanoag vow to fight non-Native use of "wampum"  Email this page     Print this page
Posted: April 05, 2000
by: Paula Peters / Indian Country Today

MASHPEE, Mass. - Wampum. It is a word that has rolled off the tongues of Algonquin Indians for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

Hewn from purple and white hunks of quahog shell, wampum is used traditionally as ornamentation and jewelry. Historically, woven into belts, it communicated the spoken word and strands of beads became the official currency of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early 1600s.

But today the people who belong to the language which gave us the word cannot even utter "wampum" and "jewelry" at once without infringing on the trademark of a non-Native woman from Yarmouth, Mass. In 1986, Janet Rounsville trademarked the term in the name of her company, Yankee Crafters, Inc., claiming "first use in commerce." But Rounsville never staked a public claim on the word until this March when she forced a local newspaper to run a correction because the term was used without referencing her trademark.

The story about wampum jewelry featured three local crafts people, two American Indian, one non-Native, but not Rounsville who was irate that she was not mentioned.

On Tuesday March 21 the Cape Cod Times ran a correction headline, "Wampum Jewelry is a Yankee Crafters trademark."

That sparked the ire of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.

"Our language supersedes any claim she has on the word," said Mashpee Chairman Glenn Marshall who put tribal attorney Judith Shapiro on the case immediately.

"I have been contacted by the tribe which is concerned with preserving this very important cultural resource," said Shapiro of Hobbs, Straus, Dean and Walker in Washington, D.C. Shapiro said while she is still investigating the tribe's options, she has been in contact with an attorney who specializes in trademark issues who advised her the tribe can apply to cancel the trademark.

At the very least, she said, the tribe should continue to use the term liberally.

"A language is the heart of a culture and in Mashpee it is an active, live tradition which cannot be taken away," Shapiro said.

Rounsville is one of several local craftspeople, Native and non-Native, who use the quahog shell to make jewelry. She insists she is entitled to the trademark exclusively and said, "If the tribe wants the word back, they can buy it from me."

It is just that kind of "arrogance" that infuriates tribal member Jessie "Little Doe" Fermino who is co-director of the Wampanoag Language Reclamation Project shared with the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe (of Gay Head) across Nantucket Sound on the island of Martha's Vineyard.

"I am angry beyond what the English language can express," said Fermino who added that people have been exploiting Indian ways for hundreds of years. But to appropriate a term like wampum jewelry "is to say that we as a people do not have a right to our own language. Some things just can't be bought.

"The way I see it, she owes us some wampum."

Aquinnah Wampanoag Donald Widdiss agrees. Widdiss says he will continue to call himself a wampum jewelry maker despite Rounsville's trademark.

"It is a generic term referring to Native American art and tradition," said Widdiss who thinks the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) made a mistake. "Its like trying to trademark cream cheese."

Widdiss said he has no problem with non-Native people making wampum jewelry, as long as they make no attempt to claim it is Native art. He said Rounsville's trademark, "is a deliberate attempt to appropriate part of our culture."

Every year more than 85,000 trademarks are registered. USPTO attorney-advisor Eleanor Meltzer said only about 1 percent are challenged, but the tribe certainly has a right to dispute Rounsville's claim.

She said it is not unusual that the tribe was not aware of Rounsville's application for the trademark in 1985. It was "published for opposition" on Dec. 24, 1985, in a the USPTO Gazette, a publication which is perused by law firms and search agencies.

"Admittedly, relatively few individuals see it," Meltzer said.

She said the agency is no stranger to Indian issues as they pertain to trademarks and patents. Last year the battle to strip the Washington Redskins football team of their trademark was won on April 2, however the team has appealed the ruling of a Washington, D.C., District Court to cancel the registration because it is a disparaging remark.

Meltzer said 1998 the USPTO established a commission to conduct a study of ways to protect Native American symbols as a result of complaints by Pueblo people that the Zuni symbol was being exploited.

As a result, a data base of Native American insignias has been established.

"The practical effect is that everyone will be aware of Indigenous insignias, and if it looks like someone is filing a trademark that is trying to play off an association with a tribe, it can be rejected," she said.

"Trying to pass her work off as Native," that is exactly what Rounsville is trying to do with wampum jewelry said Marshall, and he won't let her get away with it. He said the tribe will fight to restore honor to the word.

Offline Mo

  • Posts: 89
  • I love YaBB 1G - SP1!
Re: Who has the right to a native name?
« Reply #2 on: August 29, 2005, 09:23:50 pm »
I think the Wampanoag should trademark the term "yankee".  Seems only fair.  You can bet I will be sure no one i know buys anything from this woman. Just another example of greed in action. What goes around comes around tho.

Offline educatedindian

  • Administrator
  • *****
  • Posts: 4792
Re: Who has the right to a native name?
« Reply #3 on: August 29, 2005, 09:34:10 pm »
Dang, I had the same idea, but you beat me to it.

How about we go one step further and trademark the woman's name, Rounsville? And then demand she pay us before she could use it again.

This whole silly mess reminds me of Groucho Marx's story. Warner Brothers sued him over the Marx Bros movie A Night In Casablanca. Warner claimed they had exclusive rights to anything entitled Casablanca.

Groucho wrote back threatening to sue them for the name Warner Bros, since the Marx Bros had been Brothers professionally before Warners. They dropped their suit...

On another note, I found a website saying this whole mess happened in 2000. Rounsville wasted her money. Who knows how many people still keeping saying wampum without paying her?

There is even yet another company called Wampum Co, and they registered the name as a legal trademark too.

Offline AlaskaGrl

  • Posts: 195
Re: Who has the right to a native name?
« Reply #4 on: August 30, 2005, 02:57:54 am »
I am all for trademarking that woman's name. ? Let's do it! ? The federal government spends $3,000,000 per year on a Native Crafts Board in Washington DC. ? Those that buy from Indian artisans don't see much being done to help people. ? This includes protecting the work they do but without it it would be worse. ? I have heard of people that will buy an item, and then copy that item down to the hallmarks of the artist - and then take it to be mass produced in China, the Philipines or elsewhere. ? Are the plants and people copying the Jewelry going to be sued from where they sit in their foreign country? ? Now its not some woman with no scruples it's a whole country.

Do a search for "Kingman turquoise" on ebay... there are thousands of auctions selling Kingman turquoise and that mine has been closed for over 15 years. ? It extends to music as well. ? Do a search for the "Native American Flute." ? Look who is making them. Then read this ?

""Unfortunately, truly Native American flute carvers are few and far between. Most flutes in this style are made by white or Asian people. Unlike other artists, they are not legally barred from marketing their work as "Native American flute carving" even though they are non-native, so they have effectively taken over the market. ""

And let's say the subject is artifacts and the people who made them, these works of art and utilitarian pieces, ? some sacred, ? are no longer with us. ? These items are also being duplicated by China and other countries and are as I write, flooding the market place. ? Look on ebay, there are fake antiquities out there trying to compete with "the real deal" artifacts. ? I would say half the "artifacts" I personally see during a month are fake. ? The rest, not.

The Antiques and Collectibles market which I also work in, ? is similarily taking a hit by these rogue manufacturers. ? A big plant in China.. ? There's lots of fake Roseville out there, fake depression glass.. ? I have books on books on how to tell the real from the fake such is the extent of the problem. ? For the rest it's learn as you go, visit museums, buy more books and work with galleries who have the biggest assortment of "stuff" (to know) ? to get the feel for "what is what" and the current "trends" in ok, lets be honest -- ? Fraud. ? Interesting how Fraud is on both the spiritual and the physical planes. ?

You would not believe the amount of artifacts that come in "by the truck load." to the US. ? It is astonishing the amount of cultural history leaving countries like Central and South America, Europe, Egypt etc.. ? in the form of ancient artifacts. ? Iraqi antiquities continue to make their way onto the black market since their museums were looted as Baghdad was falling to coalition forces in April 2003.

I see this whole subject as a very small part of a much larger, global problem fed by Greed and the wants of people who think for some self centered reason that they should have what they in fact should not have. ?  

Who has a right to a native (indigenous) name on an item? ? Who has the right to the cultural identity of an item? ? Who owns the item and can copy it at will and sell it as something it is not? ? Look around because I see alot of things slipping away. ? And for that I have to open my mouth and rant yet again. ?

« Last Edit: January 01, 1970, 12:00:00 am by AstronomyGal »


  • Guest
Re: Who has the right to a native name?
« Reply #5 on: September 01, 2005, 08:44:04 pm »
I boycott "Buck or Two" because, for only 1.99 you too can own a "genuine Native American" Dream Catcher and Shield .....(made out of polyester/plastic materials clearly marked "made in china")....That pissed me off.  

Offline concernedndn

  • Posts: 1
  • I love YaBB 1G - SP1!
Re: Who has the right to a native name?
« Reply #6 on: September 07, 2005, 02:04:15 am »
What can be said about this, I say we patent the term us patent office and be done with it. If the feds will pay 100$ for a toilet seat imagine the loot we can pull in. Just another example of the feds saying our culture means nothing
« Last Edit: January 01, 1970, 12:00:00 am by concernedndn »

Offline ravenhair

  • Posts: 8
  • I love YaBB 1G - SP1!
Re: Who has the right to a native name?
« Reply #7 on: September 08, 2005, 09:49:39 pm »
Very easy guys there is a law called the native american arts and crafts law brought into law in 1999 by bill clinton any one who does arts and crafts better have a bia or tribal number to call them indian made if not they are subject to prosecution as far as this woman taking indian names, well not a surprise first they kill us know they wasnt to take our words and make money of indian name is given to a young man going into puberty by his elders and after a vision quest part of the seven rites the buffalo calf woman brouth us.only then can a young man be renamed woman (do not) get "A" name ever only the one that they are born with thats it.every one wants to take our lakota way and implanted in there wanabees tribes that dont even exsist.For the jornalist lady the right quistions to ask a person if you tink they are not indian is very simple."Who are your people ?where do you come from?and who sits in council on you rez?if they cant answer correctly then they are frauds and a waste of your time..If people mwould look into the laws that bill clinton  brought to us for all these frauds we wont have to go thru all this bull shit.start writing your governors to inforce these laws if u see someone selling indian stuff and they are nonindian call the cops make them leave.I say stop writing about and do something about in a hummble way.crazy horse will be back to show us the way and all these wanabees will be sitting at the right hand of custer...

Sky Davis

  • Guest
Re: Who has the right to a native name?
« Reply #8 on: September 09, 2005, 01:51:59 am »
The lady who trademarked 'wampum' isn't indian and doesn't claim to be nor does she claim her crafts are indian.  Her jewelry is actually pretty tacky.  We're still using the word wampum here in New England with no fallout from her.