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PNS Daily Newscast - November 16, 2018 


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Proposed Law Increases Penalties for Trafficking Native Artifacts

Gov. Kurt Riley with the Pueblo of Acoma speaks at a news conference announcing the introduction of the STOP Act in Congress. (Heinrich Staff Photo)
Gov. Kurt Riley with the Pueblo of Acoma speaks at a news conference announcing the introduction of the STOP Act in Congress. (Heinrich Staff Photo)
July 7, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Outrage over recent attempts to auction Native American artifacts in Europe has spurred the introduction of legislation in the U.S. Senate aimed at halting the theft and sale of sacred items.

Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico introduced the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony, or STOP, Act, which prohibits the export of Native American objects and increases penalties for stealing and illegally trafficking tribal cultural artifacts.

Heinrich says the measure will close a significant loophole in current federal law.

"The French authorities said, 'You don't have a prohibition in your law against the export of these items,’” Heinrich relates. “’How can we engage our auction houses to say that you need to return these when you don't even have a law on the books that says they can't leave the country in the first place?’”

In May, stolen artifacts and ceremonial items from the Pueblo of Acoma, Hopi and other tribes were put up for sale at a Paris auction house.

Following protests and negotiations, which included the U.S. State Department, the items were pulled from the auction, but the episode pointed up the need for tougher laws.

Kurt Riley, the governor of the Pueblo of Acoma, says the law gives both federal officials and tribes better tools to investigate and stop the trafficking.

"We are hoping that it will begin to close the doors on the sales of these items in Europe,” he states. “It's very difficult once it leaves the pueblo to do anything because we don't have, oftentimes, the internal wherewithal as far as policing and investigation."

First Delegate LoRenzo Bates with the Navajo Nation says without tougher laws, artifacts will continue to be taken and sold.

"As such, we did it once thinking that maybe it would end at that time,” he says. “It happened again and again. The nation took action to bring them back to our homeland."

Heinrich says the bill identifies artifacts banned from export, increases maximum penalties from 5 to 10 years, and establishes a two-year amnesty for individuals who voluntarily return illegally possessed cultural objects.


Mark Richardson, Public News Service - NM