How to Ethically Purchase Native American Jewelry

How to Ethically Purchase Native American Jewelry for Your Family 

The community of skilled Native American artists across the country create vibrant pieces of wearable art that showcase their cultural heritage, stories, and tribal designs. While there is a large group of authentic Native artists creating work for a global audience, obtaining an authentic Native product or piece of jewelry can be more challenging than one might suspect, due to oversaturation of inauthentic “Native-inspired” products flooding the market. Despite this, ethical shoppers still have ways of finding authentic Native artists to support: read on to learn why it’s important to support authentic Native artists, and how you can tell real Native art from fake!

A woman in a yellow turtleneck pulls back her curly hair to show a multicolored wood earring.Eighth Generation's Embrace Your Beauty Earrings by Michelle Lowden (Acoma Pueblo)


What Makes Native American Jewelry a Great Gift? 

Authentic Native American jewelry tells a story and connects people of different backgrounds through beautiful, wearable art. Wearing authentic Native-designed jewelry is a way to appreciate Native culture—not appropriate! Native artists will only sell items that it’s okay for you—whether you’re Native or not—to wear. They will not sell regalia, sacred items or symbols, or other ceremonial pieces, so when you purchase an item from an actual Native artist you are getting a piece that’s okay for you to wear, love, and proudly display. 

You might have come across art pieces or products labeled as "Native-inspired": Native-inspired products are not by Native artists. “Native-inspired” means traditional Native designs have been co-opted by a non-Native person or business, stripping them of their significance and ability to uplift their community of origin. Unfortunately, these non-Native companies are exploiting Native culture for their corporate benefit. 

Birch Bloom earrings worn by a woman wearing a hatOur Birch Bloom Earrings and Classic Woodlands Throw Blanket, both designed by Sarah Agaton Howes (Anishinaabe/Ojibwe)

How can you help combat fake “Native-inspired” art? Instead,  purchase genuine Native-created art and products from actual Native artists and Native companies!,.. Showing your support through the purchase of authentic goods is not only ethical, it uplifts Indigenous communities. 


How to Spot a Fake and Why It Matters

Inauthentic “Native-inspired” jewelry has flooded the market, making it sometimes difficult to find real Native-designed art and products. Not only do these fake pieces take space that could be occupied by authentic Native art, they often come at mass-produced prices, so much so that now buyers seeking Native art expect the much lower prices of counterfeits. Unfortunately, this has led to Native and Indigenous creators being forced out of their market. 

Lisa Wallace, of Diné and Nisenan descent, states in an editorial with New Mexico Magazine, “It’s impoverished and marginalized Native communities who are experiencing the greatest effects. It’s economic colonization.” 

  • Do your research. Simply popping into a shop and hoping for the best isn't going to provide you with the best outcome when it comes to authenticity. Native-owned stores, both brick-and-mortar and online shops, will proudly state their tribal affiliation (look on their Info or About pages). When reading product descriptions, look for artist names and tribal affiliations—that can help ensure your item is designed by an actual Native artist. 
  • Know your audience. Buy with intention! Think about what type of Native art you would like to give someone else, or what kind of message or symbolism you want your gift to have. Consider what they will cherish, and recognize that your purchase is an investment. You can also purchase art from a Native artist who is from the same area your gift recipient is from—a fun way to Indigenize their collection with something authentic to their area!
  • Purchase directly from an artist. Ensure you are purchasing authentic Native American jewelry or gifts by buying directly from the artist or artist collective. For example, Eighth Generation is Native founded, Native owned, over 70% of our employees are Native, and each and every product tells you exactly which Native artist designed your piece.  

A woman with dark hair pulls her hair behind her ear to show her silver cedar bough earring and necklaceOur Silver Cedar Bough Earrings and Necklace by Louie Gong (Nooksack)


The Use of Symbols in Native American Art and Jewelry

Symbols are part of every culture. In many Native cultures, symbolism runs deep and permeates every form of art, allowing for unique, one-of-a-kind pieces. The use of symbols in some Native cultures is a way to share stories and a means of connection. This could be a connection to life, spirit, or nature. While symbols can be in the physical form of many items and motifs, many Native American jewelry gifts have designs that feature natural elements. This could include drawing inspiration from bodies of water, plant life, fauna, and the cosmos. 

A denim jacket lapel, featuring an enamel pin with a hummingbird sitting on an elderberry branchHummingbird and Elderberry Enamel Pin by Louie Gong (Nooksack)


Many of Eighth Generation’s pieces feature plants and animals that are special or important to the artist who created the piece, including four animals on our Animal Relatives Demi Mug Set, strawberries on our Fierce Heart Mixed Media Earrings, and an eagle on our Eagle Beach Towel.    

In families across the globe, jewelry is prized and often passed down from generation to generation. When considering a piece of Native-designed jewelry, the design and symbols in the jewelry will likely be passed down to future generations. Look for high-quality pieces that will stand the test of time, that carry a message you want future generations to enjoy—something that mass-marketed jewelry from big box stores won’t do. 


What is Authentic Native American Jewelry?

Native American Earrings

Jewelry is an important accessory across many different Native tribes, typically made of metals, hardwoods, bone, shell, and semi-precious stones. Eighth Generation uses Sterling silver, wood, and acrylic to create a variety of different fine jewelry and mixed media jewelry pieces; each with a special story or meaning to go with it.

Ahsaki LaFrance-Chachere (Diné/Navajo and African American), creator of the Silver Arrowhead Earrings, remarks, "Protection is on my mind as I dress and as I tie up my hair in a traditional Diné (Navajo) bun. The Silver Arrowhead Earrings and Silver Arrowhead Necklace are a beautiful addition to my outfit each day as a wearable reminder of protection and strength." 

Silver arrowhead earrings sitting on a rock with grass fronds in the foregroundSilver Arrowhead Earrings by Ahsaki LaFrance Chachere (Diné/Navajo and African American) 

Sarah Agaton Howes, an Anishinaabe/Ojibwe artist, created The Fierce Heart Earrings, modeled after a strawberry. In Ojibwemowin (the Ojibwe language), a strawberry is referred to as odemin or a "heart berry." This is Sarah's signature and can be found on many of her different creations. Made of laser-cut wood and acrylic, The Fierce Heart Earrings remind the wearer of the importance of their own beautiful and fierce heart. 


Native American Necklaces

Eighth Generation's Sterling silver jewelry is cast by artisans in Seattle, and assembled in Eighth Generation’s Seattle studio. Native American jewelry in other mediums, including wood and acrylic, is also created right in our studio. 

Sx̱aałg̱én (Stephanie Masterman), from the Wooshkeetaan (Eagle/Shark) clan from the village of Hoonah, created the Silver Paddle Necklace in collaboration  with Louie Gong (Nooksack). Stephanie states that, "The yaakw (canoe) isn’t just a mode of transportation: it's a place of healing. When you’re moving through an internal struggle on the canoe, you are never alone: your ancestors are with you." 

A Tlingit woman with a cedar headband and septum piercing models earrings and a necklace in the shape of small silver paddlesStephanie (Tlingit) wearing her Silver Paddle Earrings and Necklace

Louie Gong (Nooksack), the founder of Eighth Generation, created the Silver Cedar Bough Necklace. The necklace was inspired by human connection to the land. The cedar tree itself is special to many Native people, as it has provided a means of shelter, clothing, and art. 


Where Can I Find Ethically Authentic Native American Jewelry?

Make sure you purchase your authentic Native jewelry from an actual Native artist or brand like Eighth Generation. Proudly owned by the Snoqualmie Tribe, Eighth Generation seeks to provide an alternative to "Native-inspired" products through their direct connections with Native artists. Our uniquely designed pieces of art help to support underrepresented communities. Support Inspired Natives, not Native-Inspired!

A black background with a Coast Salish pattern says Inspired Natives, Not Native Inspired in text