WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)passed, by unanimous consent on the Senate Floor, bipartisan legislation to prohibit the exporting of sacred Native American items and increase penalties for stealing and illegally trafficking Tribal cultural patrimony.
The bicameral, bipartisan Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP) Act, introduced and championed by Senators Heinrich and Murkowski, has been endorsed by organizations and Tribes across Indian Country. The legislation will help prevent instances like the auction of a shield, stolen from the Pueblo of Acoma. Senator Heinrich played a role in the effort to bring the shield home by working with Governors Kurt Riley and Brian Vallo to call for its return.
“For years, I’ve been proud to work with New Mexico’s Pueblos, the Jicarilla and Mescalero Apache Nations, the Navajo Nation, and Tribes across Indian Country to halt the trade of culturally significant items and repatriate stolen pieces to their rightful owners. Passing the STOP Act in the Senate is a significant achievement, and I will continue fighting to see that it makes it across the finish line," said Heinrich. “In New Mexico, we all recognize the incredible beauty of American Indian art--from the ancient wonders that we can explore and admire in places like Chaco Canyon and the Gila Cliff Dwellings to the traditional and modern art masterpieces created to this day by Native artists. But there is a clear difference between supporting American Indian art ethically and legally as opposed to dealing or exporting items that Tribes have identified as essential and sacred pieces of their cultural heritage. We need to take all possible action to stop the latter and repatriate stolen culturally significant items to their rightful owners.”
“The illegal trade of Alaska Native cultural items is something I have long-worked to address. By protecting and repatriating tribal cultural heritage, we are safeguarding the history and cultural identity of Alaska’s Native people and healing the wounds of cultural oppression,” said Murkowski. “The STOP Act not only works to right the wrong of illegal trade, it also enacts increased penalties for illegally trafficking these relics and artifacts. It also improves coordination between federal agencies working to protect and repatriate tribal artifacts. I take the responsibility of representing my constituents very seriously – part of that responsibility is helping protect their heritage and culture. If this bill is signed into law, we can ensure that items of cultural importance remain with or are returned to their rightful owners.”