OKLAHOMA – An American Indian artist claims a new Oklahoma law violates her right to free speech.
And now she’s taking her fight to court, suing Attorney General Scott Pruitt.
The artist, Peggy Fontenot, has sold her art in Oklahoma for years, but not anymore.
That’s because our state legislature passed a law last session that put limits on who can claim their art is Native American made.
It’s a limit so narrow that Fontenot is no longer recognized as an American Indian in Oklahoma.
Peggy Fontenot’s passion and source of income are one in the same.
She’s an award-winning photographer who sells beadwork and jewelry, all inspired by her Native American culture.
“I’m a member of the Patawomek tribe of Virginia,” Fontenot said.
She markets her work as American Indian made, but now that’s illegal in Oklahoma.
A new state law only allows federally recognized tribes to sell artwork that’s labeled “American Indian made.”
Peggy’s tribe is state-recognized in Virginia.
“My daughter was raised native American, my work lends itself to an audience that collects native American art. It`s everything to me,” Fontenot said.
Peggy says the new law is keeping her from earning a living.
For years, she sold her work at the Red Earth Festival and the Fred Jones Art Museum.
Oklahoma is a big part of the Native American Art market.
“I’ve been selling my work there for years, I have customers there, I attend shows regularly there. Now if I do that, I`m at risk of being fined or put in jail,” Fontenot said.
Peggy’s attorneys at the Pacific Legal Foundation say Oklahoma’s new law is unconstitutional mostly because it limits free speech.
“Whenever the state regulates to restrict individuals speech, the constitution demands that only be done in very special circumstances and in a very limited way and Oklahoma`s law does not do that,” PLF Caleb Trotter said.
“In Oklahoma, it’s the only state I’m not recognized now as a Native American artist,” Fontenot said.
Peggy isn’t asking for money.
She’s asking the judge to declare the law unconstitutional.
We reached out to AG Pruitt’s office for comment Wednesday, but did not hear back.