ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Congressional leaders in New Mexico are celebrating the passage of the STOP Act, prohibiting the export of sacred Native American items.
The theft of a centuries-old Native American shield, stolen decades ago from the Acoma tribe, inspired the new federal law.
“The shield, one of several stolen, was used ceremoniously and cared for by Acoma people for generations,” said Kurt Riley, former governor of Acoma Pueblo.
Years later, it resurfaced at an auction house in Paris. After continued efforts, it finally returned home.
“I think what we quickly learned, was how ubiquitous a problem this was. It wasn’t just a problem with Acoma, it was pueblo after pueblo,” U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich said.
This pushed lawmakers to write the STOP Act, which criminalizes the export of sacred items. The law would make these crimes a felony. Prison time would be doubled if someone is convicted of multiple offenses.
“So many of you who gave us the congressional testimony were willing to tell the tough stories to make my colleagues understand what a terrible thing this is for culture and identity,” said Heinrich.
Senator Heinrich and Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez celebrated the legislation at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center on Wednesday. For tribal members in attendance, the legislation’s new protections are music to their ears.