Udall, McCain, Heinrich Introduce Resolution Supporting Efforts to Stop Theft and Export of Tribal Cultural Items

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) introduced a Senate resolution in support of efforts to stop the theft, illegal possession or sale, and export of Tribal cultural items. The bipartisan Protection of the Rights of Tribes to stop the Export of Cultural and Traditional (PROTECT) Patrimony Resolution expresses Congress' condemnation of the theft, illegal possession or sale, transfer, and export of Tribal cultural items. It calls for the implementation of several measures to identify and stop the illegal trafficking of Tribal cultural patrimony, and secure repatriation of exported items to the rightful Native American owners. 

"Sacred Tribal cultural items play a vital role in the history, traditions and cultures of Native Americans, and are essential to maintaining the Native American way of life," Udall said. "Tribal cultural items deserve respect at all levels of government, and this resolution will help to support efforts to stop the illegal theft and sale of these items. As a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, I'm proud to introduce this resolution, and I'll continue to support collaborative work to end trafficking of Tribal cultural items and facilitate the return of stolen items to their rightful owners."

 "I’m proud to join my colleagues in cosponsoring this resolution supporting efforts to stop the trafficking of sacred Native American artifacts," said McCain. "Year after year, these artifacts, which have deep historical and cultural significance for Native American tribes, are transported and auctioned off overseas. Congress must impose stiffer penalties to stop this illegal practice, and I’ll continue working to pass legislation that would prevent these sacred items from being lost forever." 

"Native patrimony deserves to be protected and preserved, not illegally trafficked and sold to the highest bidder. Sacred tribal artifacts connect Native families to their history and help keep their cultural heritage alive so that parents can hand down those special traditions to future generations," said Heinrich who introduced the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP) Act in July to prohibit the exporting of sacred Native American items and increase penalties for stealing and illegally trafficking tribal cultural patrimony. "We need to take all possible action to condemn the theft of tribal cultural artifacts and repatriate stolen culturally significant items to their rightful owners."

Tribal cultural items have historical, traditional or cultural importance central to Native American culture, yet continue to be removed from the possession of Native Americans and sold in black or public markets in violation of federal and Tribal laws, and to be exported internationally to evade such laws. Once Tribal cultural items are exported internationally, Native Americans often have difficulty stopping the sale of the items and securing their repatriation. The senators' resolution emphasizes federal agencies' responsibility to consult with Native Americans to stop the theft, illegal possession or sale, transfer, and export of Tribal cultural items, and is supported by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and the All Pueblos Council of Governors. 

 "NCAI commends Senator Udall for introducing S. Con. Res. 49, the PROTECT Patrimony Act, to raise awareness on the theft, illegal sale and trafficking of tribal items of cultural patrimony and directing federal agencies to investigate these illegal activities," said NCAI Executive Director Jacqueline Pata. "The removal of these items from tribal communities has gone on for far too long and this Resolution is a positive step in protecting our cultural items."

Specifically, the resolution: 

- Condemns the theft, illegal possession or sale, transfer, and export of Tribal cultural items;

- Calls on the Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of State, Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Attorney General, in consultation with Native Americans, including traditional Native American religious leaders, to take affirmative action to stop the practices and secure repatriation of Tribal cultural items to Native Americans;

- Calls for the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct a study to determine the scope of illegal trafficking in Tribal cultural items domestically and internationally, and to identify, in consultation with Native Americans, steps to end illegal trafficking and export of cultural items, and secure repatriation to the appropriate Native Americans;

- Supports the development of explicit restrictions on the export of Tribal cultural items; and

- Encourages states, local governments, and interested groups and organizations to work cooperatively to deter theft, illegal possession or sale, transfer, and export of Tribal cultural items, and to secure  repatriation to the appropriate Native Americans. 

U.S. Representative Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) introduced a companion resolution in the House of Representatives in March (H. Con. Res. 122), which is also cosponsored by U.S. Representatives Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) along with the co-chairs of the Congressional Native American Caucus, U.S. Representatives Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Betty McCollum (D-Minn.).

A copy of the resolution is available here