In a sequel to the drama that unfolded in the fall, the Navajo Nation has sued Urban Outfitters for trademark infringement and violations of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.
Last year, the Navajo Nation sent Urban Outfitters a cease and desist letter demanding it stop promoting items in its store such as socks, underwear and plastic trinkets as “Navajo.” A public furor erupted in October when a member of the Santee Sioux nation distributed “An Open Letter to Urban Outfitters on Columbus Day.” With bloggers hurling outrage and mainstream media picking up the story, Urban Outfitters quietly pulled the controversial items from its website.
The Nation’s lawsuit, filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in New Mexico, addresses Navajo-branded items in Urban Outfitters catalogs and sold by different arms of the Philadelphia-based company, such as Free People.
The lawsuit states, according to an AP report, “The fame or reputation of the Navajo name and marks is such that, when defendant uses the ‘Navajo’ and ‘Navaho’ marks with its goods and services, a connection with the Navajo Nation is falsely presumed.”
At press time, a search of FreePeople.com for “Navajo” yielded seven results: One was a “Hacienda Bag” that was not explicitly labeled Navajo and the other six were vintage jewelry items. The latter are identified as being between 30 and 80 years old and could, conceivably, have been made by Navajo craftspeople.
Or perhaps Free People is simply using the word “Navajo” to mean “Indian-looking.” It may be up to the courts to sort this out. Let the games begin.