WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) reintroduced the bipartisan Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP) Act, a bill to prohibit the exporting of sacred Native American items and increase penalties for stealing and illegally trafficking tribal cultural patrimony. The House companion was introduced by Assistant House Speaker Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representatives Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), Don Young (R-Alaska), and Tom Cole (R-Okla.).
“Since its passage, the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act has been an important tool for bringing home Native American cultural items, including art, ceremonial goods and sacred property, but we need to do more to ensure our Indigenous communities’ important cultural belongings are preserved and protected,” said Young. “Gaps in existing law have made it difficult to prohibit the export of Native American cultural items, leading to further loss of these precious materials. As the Representative of many Alaska Native communities, I am proud to support the STOP Act to help precious cultural property return to the communities they belong to, and I am grateful for Congressman Ben Ray Luján’s leadership on this important issue.”
“I am proud to join with my colleagues in the introduction of the STOP Act, which would preserve and safeguard the precious cultural property of Native Americans,” said Cole. “Just as the United States helps protect and return foreign cultural property, it is only right for other countries to respect ownership of the sacred treasures, artifacts and other items belonging to Native Americans. I am encouraged that this legislation would combat trafficking of Native American artifacts and help preserve the priceless history and culture of tribal nations.”
- Increases Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) penalties to aid in deterrence.
- Explicitly prohibits the export of tribal cultural heritage obtained in violation of NAGRPA, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA), or the Antiquities Act. Creates an export certification system where an exporter seeking to export an item that qualifies as a Native American cultural item, archaeological resource, or object of antiquity under NAGPRA, ARPA, or the Antiquities Act must apply for a certification, and only items legally obtained are eligible for a certification. Certain countries, such as France, restrict import of cultural heritage illegally exported from a country that issues export certificates. The export prohibition paired with the export certification system will help the United States and tribes use those countries’ domestic laws and law enforcement mechanisms to return illegally exported items.
- Confirms the President’s authority to enter into agreements under a 1970 international treaty in order to request from other countries return of tribal cultural heritage. The United States has already entered into such agreements to protect other countries’ cultural heritage.
- Creates a federal framework to support voluntary return of sacred items, including a referral program to allow the Department of the Interior to assist individuals in finding a tribe with a cultural affiliation to tribal cultural heritage they want to return.
- Creates a federal working group to ensure coordination between federal agencies whose work involves protecting or facilitating repatriation of tribal cultural heritage.
- Establishes a tribal working group to aid federal agencies and committees whose work involves protecting or facilitating repatriation of tribal cultural heritage.
"The Nez-Lizer Administration is very thankful to Senator Heinrich and Assistant Speaker Luján for crafting this bill to protect our cultural heritage and stewardship of our sacred belongings. In 2014, the issue of repatriation was brought to our forefront when the Navajo Nation recovered several ceremonial masks from a Paris auction that were unlawfully taken from our homelands. We were successful in bringing the masks back home, but not without great difficulty. Our administration is certain that if it has happened to the Navajo Nation, then it has happened all across Indian Country. The Navajo Nation strongly supports the STOP Act to help repatriate stolen culturally significant items to the rightful owners,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.
"The All Pueblo Council of Governors reaffirms our strong support for the STOP Act. We stand in recognition that our Pueblo nations have been disproportionately impacted by illegal trafficking of our tribal cultural heritage. We thank our congressional partners for standing with us in calling upon the United States to address international repatriation and take affirmative actions to stop the theft and illegal sale of our tribal cultural heritage both within the country and abroad. We look forward to this legislation supporting the return of these living resources that ensure the traditional well-being of our present generations and those forthcoming,” said All Pueblo Council of Governors Chairman E. Paul Torres.
“The continued theft, looting and profiting off of Native American cultural heritage is evidence of the lack of understanding from the public that Tribal Nations and their citizens possess the basic human rights to practice their cultures and religions without such persecution. The history of past federal policy that has outlawed Native American cultural practices, languages and religions set the stage for these types of violations of human rights. The passage of the STOP Act will require looters to prove their legality to such significant and sensitive items before they are trafficked internationally. Though there is still much to do towards protecting Native American cultural heritage, the STOP Act is an necessary step towards fully protecting these sensitive items from being lost abroad,” said the Association on American Indian Affairs.
“The STOP Act is a critical step - the legal protection of our cultural heritage will help ensure the history of misappropriation of Native objects will not repeat itself,” said Vivian Korthuis, CEO of the Association of Village Council Presidents. “These objects belong to us - they are a part of the legacy we will always share with future generations. I'm glad an awareness is finally beginning to form around this concept.”
“Tribal nations have long endured the removal and export of our tangible cultural heritage items to places scattered all over the world,” said Jefferson Keel, President of the National Congress of American Indians. “Once these pieces of our heritage are taken from our communities, they are difficult to get back. The STOP Act is a strong step in the right direction, and we are heartened that this legislation would help return our sacred items to their homelands and ceremonial settings.”
The Senate bill was introduced today by Heinrich and Murkowski and is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and James Lankford (R-Okla.). The House companion was introduced today by Luján, Haaland, Young, and Cole and is cosponsored by U.S. Representatives Paul Cook (R-Calif.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Ed Case (D-Hawaii), Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.), Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-American Samoa), and Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.), Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.).