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Heinrich Announces Growing Bipartisan Support For Tribal Artifacts Bill

Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP) Act would prohibit the exporting of sacred Native American items and increase penalties for stealing and illegally trafficking tribal cultural patrimony.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) announced growing bipartisan support for the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP) Act, a bill he introduced earlier this month to prohibit the exporting of sacred Native American items and increase penalties for stealing and illegally trafficking tribal cultural patrimony. U.S. Senators Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) have signed on as cosponsors of the bill.

"I'm proud to welcome the growing bipartisan support for my legislation to safeguard sacred Native American artifacts," said Sen. Heinrich. "The STOP Act will increase penalties for stealing and illegally trafficking tribal cultural patrimony. And it will prohibit exporting these objects and create a tribal working group to help federal agencies better understand the scope of the problem and how to solve it. The United States must do everything in its power to ensure that priceless Native American cultural items are returned to their rightful homes instead of being sold off to the highest bidder. I will continue working with my colleagues and tribal communities to ensure we build on this momentum so we can help repatriate stolen culturally significant artifacts back to Indian Country."

"I am pleased to join my colleagues in this bipartisan effort to stop the illegal trafficking of sacred Native American artifacts," said Sen. Flake. "These culturally significant and historical objects belong with the tribes, not the highest bidder."

"I'm very pleased that this is a growing bipartisan effort. Cultural objects play fundamental role in connecting Tribal members to their culture and their personal identity, and this connection should be recognized and respected at all levels of government in the United States and abroad," said Sen. Udall. "These aren't items to be collected and exploited, and I will keep working with this bipartisan group--and alongside New Mexico's Tribal leaders--to ensure the penalties for stealing and illegally trafficking sacred Native American cultural objects match the significance of the crimes."

"Many of the cultural artifacts that this bill would protect have a special, sacred connection to Native American people, as well as their history and heritage," said Sen. McCain. "I have worked for many years to help protect these objects and keep them within the Native American community. I'm proud to see growing support in Congress of our legislation to impose stiffer penalties to stop these sacred items from being lost forever."

"Sacred items connect Native Americans with their vibrant tribal heritages and cultures," said Sen. Tester, Vice Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee. "This bill will help put a stop to the illegal sale of cultural objects, and ensure that communities in Indian Country are able to preserve sacred items for generations to come."

"Through the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, Congress set national policy that cultural items and remains sacred to our Native families belong to the community--not museums, not collectors," said Sen. Murkowski. "But some of these items have managed to leave the country and find their way into the hands of collectors abroad. Through the STOP Act, we are taking a stand to put an end to this practice and taking a major step forward in repatriating those that have ended up in foreign hands back to the United States."

"It's critical that we treat Native American artifacts with the respect and protection they deserve," said Sen. Daines. "That's why I'm supporting legislation that will help protect objects of  tribal heritage and ensure they are preserved for generations to come."

Earlier this month, Senator Heinrich was joined by tribal leaders at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, N.M. and on Capitol Hill to unveil the details of the legislation. The bill's introduction comes after Senator Heinrich worked to help halt the auction of a Pueblo of Acoma ceremonial shield that was scheduled to be sold at the EVE Auction House in Paris in May.

The Navajo Nation and the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council have passed resolutions supporting the STOP Act, and the bill has been endorsed by tribes across Indian Country, including  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.

Specifically, the STOP Act would:

  • Increase penalties (from a maximum of five years to a maximum of 10 years) for NAGPRA criminal violations to more closely match the National Stolen Property Act and other similar statutes.
  • Explicitly prohibit the export of items obtained in violation of NAGPRA, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, or the Antiquities Act. The French government has cited the lack of an explicit export prohibition as an impediment to enforcement of NAGPRA and related laws overseas.
  • Establish a two-year amnesty period for individuals who voluntarily return all of their illegally possessed cultural objects to the appropriate tribes.
  • Direct U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to complete a report on the number of cultural objects illegally trafficked, both domestically and internationally; the extent to which the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has prosecuted cases of trafficking in cultural objects or human remains; and recommendations for DOJ, U.S. Department of State, and U.S. Department of the Interior to eliminate illegal commerce in cultural objects and secure repatriation of such objects.
  • Direct the formation of a tribal working group to work with the agencies in preparing information for the report and advise on implementation of the report's recommendations.