Bill makes illegal the export of US Native artifacts

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Magazine

The U.S. Senate this week unanimously passed a bill that would make it illegal to export illegally obtained Native American cultural objects and other artifacts and increase related criminal penalties.

The bill passed after Sen. Martin Heinrich, DN.M., spoke and said it would help the Pueblo of Acoma’s multi-year effort to stop the auction of the decades-lost Holy Shield . Depart from Paris, France.

The tribe learned that the shield was auctioned off in 2016. The shield was returned voluntarily in 2019.

“The need for this legislation is very simple,” Heinrich said. “Intense public outcry and diplomatic pressure were enough to stop the illegal sale of a tribe’s cultural heritage.”

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Former Acoma Pueblo Gov. Brian Vallo said he was grateful that the bill titled “Protecting Tribal Heritage Conservation Objects,” or the Stop Act, passed the Senate.

Vallow said the law would make it easier for puebloans to get their shields back from auction houses, a years-long struggle. It was returned only after advocates and other tribes partnered with Acoma to launch a return campaign, he said.

Vallo also met with the client and persuaded him to return the shield.

“I think it would also really send a strong message to collectors who are engaged in this type of illegal activity in the United States and elsewhere that this kind of behavior will no longer be tolerated,” he said.

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The legislation, in part, increases the maximum prison term from five to 10 years for those convicted of selling, buying, using for profit, or transporting human remains or certain cultural objects obtained illegally. It also increased civil penalties for similar conduct and made it a crime to export illegally obtained tribal items.

The bill passed the House of Representatives last year in a 364-57 vote. It will now head to President Biden’s desk during this week’s White House summit of tribal nations.

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All five members of the state’s congressional delegation supported the measure. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández (D-N.M.) sponsored the House bill.

“While the United States has enacted domestic laws to help other countries protect their cultural property, prior to the STOP Act, we had no laws to prevent the export of Native American heritage. Nothing beats the Pueblo of Acoma’s stolen shields It’s clearer,” she said in a statement. “The STOP Act would explicitly prohibit the export of illegally obtained tribal cultural items and better yet return them if they are found overseas.”


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