Navajo leadership applauds bill to prohibit exportation of sacred tribal objects

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Contact: Jared King
Communications Director
Navajo Nation Washington Office

For Immediate Release

Navajo leadership applauds bill to prohibit exportation of sacred tribal objects

WASHINGTON—Navajo Nation leadership including President Russell Begaye, Speaker LoRenzo Bates and Council Delegate Jonathan Hale commended Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and tribal leaders for their efforts in composing the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP) Act of 2016. Sen. Heinrich will introduce the STOP Act, which will prohibit the exportation of sacred tribal objects to international markets and increase sentencing for the theft or illegal trafficking of tribal cultural patrimony.

“For decades, the Navajo Nation has shared in the struggles of other nations to recover the physical remains of our ancestors, and the sacred objects they left behind,” said President Begaye in a letter to Sen. Heinrich in support of the STOP Act.

Speaking on Capitol Hill at a press conference today, Speaker LoRenzo Bates said, “I want to extend my sincere appreciation to the senator for introducing this bill; not only on behalf of the Navajo Nation Council but on behalf of Indian country. I can’t emphasize enough, that if it has happened to the Navajo Nation, then I’m certain it has happened all across Indian Country.”

The STOP Act would increase penalties for NAGPRA violations, prohibit export of items obtained in violation of NAGPRA, provide a two year amnesty for individuals who voluntarily return illegally possessed cultural objects, directs the U.S. Government Accountability Office to complete a report and recommendations on the state of cultural objects illegal trafficking and prosecution, and create a tribal working group to work with and advise the agencies on the development and implementation of the report.

Speaker Bates joined Pueblo of Acoma Governor Kurt Riley, National Congress of American Indians Policy Director Denise Desiderio and Sen. Heinrich to provide support at the STOP Act press event on Capitol Hill. In addition, on July 5, Council Delegate Jonathan Hale joined tribal leaders from New Mexico and Sen. Heinrich at another press event at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque to discuss the details of the STOP Act and to raise awareness of the importance of protecting Native American cultural patrimony.

The bill comes in the wake of Sen. Heinrich’s work to halt the auction of an Acoma Pueblo ceremonial shield in Paris, France this past May. In addition, the Naabik’iyátí Committee’s Sacred Sites Subcommittee has been engaged in similar work with the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, the Navajo Nation Washington Office, and the U.S. Embassy in France to mitigate the transfer and sales of cultural patrimony abroad.

Numerous tribal leaders have noted that sacred tribal patrimony are necessary for the cultural survival of indigenous peoples, and existing law has not been strong enough of a deterrent. The support offered by the Navajo Nation and tribal leaders on these measures and the STOP Act reflects Sen. Heinrich’s work with New Mexico tribes and Indian Country to deter illegal activity surrounding sacred cultural objects.


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