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Members of Congress, Senators Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Stop Act to Safeguard Items


Location: Washington, DC

Today, U.S. House Assistant 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.) reintroduced the bipartisan Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act, a bill to prohibit the exporting of sacred Native American items and increase penalties for stealing and illegally trafficking tribal cultural patrimony. U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M), the lead author of the legislation, and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced the companion bill in the Senate.

"I am proud to work with tribes in New Mexico and across Indian Country to reintroduce this legislation to safeguard sacred Native American items," said Heinrich. "The STOP Act has garnered broad, bipartisan support and I'm confident we can pass it into law. 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 theft of Tribal heritage items has been a reprehensible injustice for far too long," said Luján. "I'm proud to work with Sen. Martin Heinrich to move forward legislation to prohibit the exploitation of sacred Native items by outlawing their exportation and increasing penalties for those who traffic in cultural patrimony. We have a responsibility to lend our voices to Native communities seeking to safeguard their heritage, sovereignty, and knowledge, and the introduction of this legislation is an important step. I am hopeful that the immense bipartisan and bicameral support will build momentum for this critical piece of legislation and that honoring our trust responsibility to Tribes will continue to be a priority for this Congress."

"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."

"No one's cultural, sacred, and historical items should be stolen and trafficked for profit, but for centuries Native American property has been taken from our communities and sold off to the highest bidder. Our people are not just some long ago culture forced into extinction -- we are still here and we still practice our traditional ceremonies and pilgrimages. The STOP Act would ensure that our communities regain the authority to determine how and where our loved ones and property are shared, while ensuring those responsible for taking our sacred property bare the consequences," said Haaland, Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus.

"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, Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. "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."

"By protecting and repatriating tribal cultural heritage, we are also actively preserving the cultural identity and history of our Native populations. This process of returning stolen items back to their rightful owners in our Native communities aids in the process of healing from cultural oppression. The STOP Act simply works to right a wrong," said Murkowski. "Working to increase penalties for illegally trafficking cultural items and artifacts, providing an export certification system that protects these relics, and improving coordination between federal agencies working to protect and repatriate tribal artifacts, we can ensure that these items of such cultural importance remain with or are returned to their rightful owners."

The STOP Act:

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.

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