Bill to Prohibit Export of Native American Artifacts Introduced by US Senator

Following a meeting on July 5 with tribal leaders at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, US Senator Martin Heinrich, a Democrat representing New Mexico, introduced the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP) Act with the leaders’ support, according to Allison Meier at Hyperallergic. This follows on the heels of an emergency meeting held at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, last May when a Paris auction house hosted a sale of Native American artifacts. As a result of the meeting, Heinrich was involved with helping to get an Acoma shield pulled from the auction, though other objects considered sacred to various Native cultures were sold.

The bill is meant to prohibit the export of such sacred items and to increase penalties for stealing and illegally trafficking tribal cultural patrimony. Heinrich said the act will also “create a tribal working group to help federal agencies better understand the scope of the problem and how to solve it.” He added, “In a place like New Mexico, we all recognize the incredible beauty of American Indian art––from the remnants of ancient wonders that we can explore and admire in places like Chaco Canyon and the Gila Cliff Dwellings to the traditional and modern art masterpieces created by Native artists to this day. But we can also recognize a clear difference between supporting tribal artists or collecting artifacts ethically and legally as opposed to dealing or exporting items that tribes have identified as essential and sacred pieces of their cultural heritage. We need to take all possible action to stop the latter and help repatriate stolen culturally significant items to their rightful owners.” The STOP Act would create a barrier against the export of any object obtained in violation of NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act), the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, or the Antiquities Act. According to Heinrich, the French government “cited the lack of an explicit export prohibition as an impediment to enforcement of NAGPRA and related laws overseas” when the meeting at the Smithsonian was held to protest the overseas auction of Native American objects, which this new act seeks to solve.

The Navajo Nation has passed a resolution supporting the STOP Act, and the bill has also been endorsed by the Jicarilla Apache Nation, the Pueblos of Acoma, Santa Ana, Isleta, Zuni, Laguna, Nambé, Jemez, and Ohkay Owingeh ,as well as the All Pueblo Council of Governors, the National Congress of American Indians, and the United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund.

For further details on the act’s stipulations, see Heinrich’s website.