Rep. Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico) on YouTube: Floor Speech to push for passage of PROTECT Patrimony Resolution

House passes measure to combat illegal sale of tribal property

A bill aimed a stopping the sale of tribal cultural property cleared the House on Wednesday evening.

H.Con.Res.122, the PROTECT Patrimony Resolution, condemns the sale, transfer and export of tribal property. It calls on the federal government to work with tribes and spiritual leaders to come up with ways to stop the practice and repatriate items back to their rightful owners.

"The U.S. government was not always gracious in dealing with Native American tribes," Rep. Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico), the sponsor of H.Con.Res.122, said during consideration of his measure. "And so the least that we can do is help them reestablish that culture that lets them tell the children who are coming up about who they were, where they came from, and the things that are significant to them."

Pearce has been working closely with tribes to help them recover their property. He said some have been forced to buy sacred and spiritual items from auction houses overseas, recounting one instance in which a tribe went to France to reclaim an important part of its heritage.

"They bought a first-class ticket for it. It was so significant that they did not want to let it travel as cargo in the hold of the airplane," Pearce said.

An aerial view of Sky City, a village at Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico. Photo by Marshall Henrie

In a more recent case, an auction house in France pulled a shield belonging to Acoma Pueblo from sale after the tribe presented evidence that it had been stolen from the reservation. But he said the French government has been "resistant" to repatriation efforts.

"Negotiations are still going on to bring that item back," Pearce said. "But the idea that we as a government, we as the U.S. government, should be studying these things that are around the world being sold internationally, maybe have enough significance that we would want them to be repatriated, we would want them to come back to where people would know about their heritage."

The Protection of the Right of Tribes to Stop the Export of Cultural and Traditional Patrimony Resolution awaits action in the Senate. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs approved a companion measure, S.Con.Res.49, earlier this month so the bill stands a greater chance of becoming law before the end of the 114th Congress.

A different measure, the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act (STOP Act) [H.R.5854 | S.3127] would increase penalties for people who try to export tribal property. That bill has yet to receive a hearing in either the House or the Senate.

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