December 09, 2016

NM Delegation Welcomes Final Passage of PROTECT Patrimony Resolution Condemning the Trafficking of Stolen Tribal Cultural Items

WASHINGTON - Today, the members of New Mexico's U.S. Senate and U.S. House delegation hailed final passage of the Protection of the Right of Tribes to stop the Export of Cultural and Traditional (PROTECT) Patrimony Resolution (House Concurrent Resolution 122). The bipartisan resolution was introduced by U.S. Senator Tom Udall and U.S. Representative Steve Pearce and cosponsored by Senator Martin Heinrich in the Senate, Representatives Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham in the House. It condemns the theft, illegal possession or sale, transfer, and export of Tribal cultural items and calls for several measures to be implemented to help identify and stop the illegal trafficking of Tribal cultural patrimony and secure repatriation of exported items to the rightful native American owners. The PROTECT Patrimony Resolution was approved by the House, then amended and passed in the Senate in September and passed again in its final form by the House before it adjourned this week.

"Sacred Tribal cultural items are not art, they are essential to the history, cultures and traditions of Native American communities. They deserve respect at all levels of government," said Udall, incoming vice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. "With this resolution, Congress is telling the federal government that it must make it a priority to understand the scope of the problem, stop the illegal theft and sale of Tribal cultural items and consult with Tribes in the effort to crack down on this practice. While this resolution is a strong message to the federal government, we still have work to do, including changing the law to ensure the penalties match the crime. I am proud to be an original cosponsor of Senator Heinrich's STOP Act, which would increase the penalties and give Tribes a seat at the table in the effort to protect sacred items and patrimony, and as vice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, I will continue to push for passage of that legislation and to do whatever I can to ensure that stolen Native patrimony is returned to its rightful owners."

"The cultures, religions, and histories of the tribal people that have lived on the land for thousands of years are deeply embedded in what it means to be New Mexican," said Pearce. "Without the preservation, protection, and teaching of these histories, New Mexico and our nation will be fundamentally different. Despite a number of laws designed to combat the illegal theft and sale of these items, they are still lost to the highest bidder far too often. We can do more, and we must do more. Just in the last few years, multiple tribes within New Mexico have been the victim of these illegal practices. Despite national and international law opposing the practice, the tribes I represent have had religious symbols, artifacts, and remains illegally taken and placed on auction blocks in France. While not well known, it is a practice we should all want to end. However, we cannot afford to blindly introduce more legislation that will add bureaucratic or duplicative layers on our enforcement system and may cause these artifacts to be lost forever. What we need, and what this resolution creates, is a comprehensive audit of what is working within our current system, what is broken, and what is the best path forward to ending this horrific practice that sees essential pieces of Native American culture and history being stolen and sold. I thank my colleagues in Congress for working with me on this initiative. Most importantly, agreement of this resolution would not have been possible without tribal leaders' nationwide coming together to raise awareness. This is a true instance of Congress responding to the will and demands of the people."

"Sacred tribal artifacts connect Native communities to their history and help tribes preserve their cultural heritage and pass on traditions to future generations," Heinrich said. "This resolution is an important step in the effort to bring attention to the widespread illegal trafficking of sacred items, and I commend Senator Udall for his leadership. I will continue fighting to pass my bipartisan bill, the STOP Act, 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."â??

"When a Tribal cultural item is stolen and auctioned off, it is disrespectful and desecrates the religion of our Native American brothers and sisters," said Luján. "The theft, export and sale of these items has a profound effect on Tribal Nations and their people. To preserve these cultures and sacred practices, we must protect against these thefts. I am a proud cosponsor of the PROTECT Patrimony Resolution and will continue to advocate for the protection against the desecration of sacred sites and artifacts."

"I am proud that the New Mexico delegation came together with tribal leaders to combat this immoral and criminal behavior," Lujan Grisham said. "While we should celebrate this example of productive government-to-government collaboration, Congress needs to do more to ensure that these sacred objects are safely returned and placed under tribal custody."

Tribal cultural items have immense historical, traditional and cultural importance to Native American culture-yet these items continue to be taken from Native Americans and sold in black or public markets in violation of federal and tribal laws. When Tribal cultural items are exported internationally to avoid these laws, Native Americans encounter extraordinary difficulty in stopping their sale and securing their repatriation. This resolution emphasizes federal agencies' responsibility to consult and work with Native Americans to stop the theft, illegal possession or sale, transfer, and export of Tribal cultural items, and has received support from Tribal leaders across New Mexico and America, including the National Congress of American Indians and the All Pueblos Council of Governors.

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;
- Supports the ongoing efforts of 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.