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Judge grants warrant for sacred shield stolen from Acoma Pueblo






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

A federal judge has granted a warrant to recover a sacred shield that was stolen from Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico.

The shield was taken from the reservation sometime in the 1970s. Somehow it ended up in the hands of an auction house in France, where it was almost sold to the highest bidder in late May.

"The ceremonial shield was stolen, taken and removed from the Pueblo of Acoma in the 1970s and transported in interstate and foreign commerce," a July 20 complaint submitted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Mexico reads. "The shield was smuggled out of the United States and taken to its current location in Paris, France."

The warrant was approved on Tuesday. It authorizes the seizure of the shield "whatever means may be appropriate."

"You are, therefore, hereby commanded to arrest the Defendant Property as soon as practicable by serving a copy of this warrant on the custodian in whose possession, custody or control the property is presently found, and to use whatever means may be appropriate to protect and maintain it in your custody until further order of this court," the warrant reads.


The Acoma Pueblo ceremonial shield is seen here adorned with feathers. Federal experts do not believe the feathers are real eagle or turkey feathers and they believe the feathers were added after the fact to increase the item's sale value. Image from EVE Auction House

The EVE auction house pulled the shield from sale after being notified that it was stolen. But the item -- which was made sometime in the 1800s -- has not been returned to the tribe despite diplomatic pressure.

"We're hopeful that we eventually will get it back," Acoma Pueblo Gov. Kurt Riley said at a press conference on Capitol Hill last month.

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. The bill has yet to get a hearing in either the House or the Senate.

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