In 1931, a group of trading post owners and operators founded the United Indian Traders Association (UITA), a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the authenticity of Native American arts and crafts. B.I. Staples was named the first president of the association. The first offices were at the Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial Association hogan on Santa Fe Plaza in Gallup, New Mexico.
The UITA's stated goals were: 1) to promote improved business practices among Indian traders, arts and crafts dealers, Indians, and all related agencies; 2) to promote, encourage, and protect the manufacture and sale of genuine Indian handmade arts and crafts; and 3) to promote the general welfare of those engaged in the business of Indian trading, as well as the welfare of the Navajo Indians and all other Indians of North America.
The UITA addressed issues of importance to traders primarily on the Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni reservations. One major concern was whether imitation Native American arts and crafts should be allowed to be sold anywhere on the reservations. Along with lease negotiations with the tribal governments came the issue of whether a trader could dig a private well on the trading post lease site. Taxation was also a major topic. Should traders pay property tax on the reservation to the county or state government? The intersection of tribal, county, state, and national governments on the reservations complicated these questions, and the UITA could and did employ lawyers to help settle the questions.
A Board of Directors met annually to discuss business matters. Meetings rotated between Gallup, Farmington, and Flagstaff. Representatives of member trading posts attended the business meeting, and in the evening the UITA held a social dinner and dance. This was a chance for members, who often lived in remote areas, to visit with friends and family as well as discuss issues of common interest.
In 1973, the Federal Trade Commission conducted a study of the trading post system on the Navajo reservation to help determine the extent of unfair trade practices by reservation traders. Following the report issued by the FTC, the Bureau of Indian Affairs came out with new regulations that changed the face of trading on the reservations.
The new regulations diminished the economic feasibility of the traditional, service oriented trading posts, and hence the viability of the UITA itself.
Recently the UITA divided existing monies to fund several projects. A business school scholarship and child development program were funded at San Juan Regional College, as was a scholarship at the University of New Mexico, Gallup. A third business scholarship was established at Northern Arizona University. The city of Farmington, New Mexico received money to build a replica trading post within their new library and museum. Finally, Cline Library Special Collections and Archives here at NAU received funds for an oral history project, a physical exhibit, this web-site, and a CD-ROM documenting the history of the association through photographs, papers, and personal recollections. Dr. Willow Roberts Powers is currently writing a book about the history of Indian traders in the Southwest.
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