In the 1970’s several shields of cultural significance disappeared without a trace from Acoma Pueblo. The caretaker of the shields called the tribal sheriff, but there was little that could be done.
Decades later, one of the shields resurfaced in an auction catalog. An email sent to Acoma tribal lawyers in 2015 informed them that the shield would be going up for auction in Paris, France by EVE ( Estimations Ventes aux Enchères ) auction house.
The shield was not the only tribal item that was up for auction by EVE. According to The Paper contributor and former secretary of Acoma Pueblo, Jonathan Sims, there were many items for sale from Pueblo, Hopi and Navajo Nations.
After the tribe’s leadership became aware of the situation, they sprang into action.
They explored their options with lawyers and contacted the French government and EVE. However, they were denied action and EVE told leaders that they were, “Welcome to bid on the item.” But, Acoma tribal law prohibits the sale of items such as the shield.
They day of the auction came and the shield was pulled and after a long battle, it was returned to Acoma Pueblo.
There was nothing to protect tribal items from being exported outside of the United States. Enter: The Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP) Act.
Introduced in 2016 by US Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the goal of the act is to prohibit the exportation and sale of sacred Native American items and to increase penalties for stealing and illegally trafficking the items.
The STOP Act was signed into law by President Biden on Dec. 21, 2021.
“This is about Congress listening to the voices and needs of the people we serve and making a difference,” Rep. Teresa Ledger Fernández (D-NM) said at a press conference celebrating the act becoming law. Ledger Fernández led the charge for the STOP Act in the house.
The press conference was also attended by the entire New Mexico US congressional delegation along with former and current tribal leaders.
“This STOP Act that we’re celebrating today. Not only do we celebrate it for the Pueblo of Acoma, not only for the state of New Mexico, not only for the United States, but worldwide. This is an act that is going to help our patrimonies, items and our cultural precedence. We keep all our items where they belong. This helps us,” said Governor of Acoma Pueblo Randall Vicente.
Now that the STOP Act has been signed into law leaders expect that a situation that the Acoma Pueblo experienced with EVE can be prevented or solved.