Association on American Indian Affairs hosts repatriation conference

A ceremonial shield stolen from Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico is the subject of a legal and diplomatic battle after it was put up for sale by a private auction house in France. Image from EVE Auction House

The Association on American Indian Affairs is hosting a repatriation summit this month amid renewed attention on the theft and sale of tribal property.

The Indigenous International Repatriation Conference takes place September 26-27 at the Isleta Resort and Casino in New Mexico. The event, now in its second year, brings together leaders and experts from around the world to discuss how indigenous communities can reclaim their cultural heritage and cultural patrimony.

“Our first International Repatriation Conference was something that we had looked forward to for a long time. It was an amazing conference that filled our spirit!" said Donna Augustine, a member of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs from Maine.

The preliminary agenda for the meeting includes a session on private auction houses. Tribes have repeatedly seen their sacred items sold in overseas markets -- mainly in France -- despite diplomatic efforts to stop the practice.

Another session will focus on legislation aimed at curtailing the export of tribal property. Last week, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs approved S.Con.Res.49, the PROTECT Patrimony Resolution, to put more federal government resources into the effort.

"These items are not pieces of art -- they are sacred objects, deeply important for tribal identity and we need to put a stop to the trafficking of these objects," Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) said at the committee's business meeting last Wednesday.

A second bill, the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act (STOP Act) [H.R.5854 | S.3127], increases penalties for people who try to export tribal property.

Officials from the Department of the Interior, the Department of Justice and the Department of State will be at the conference to conduct a listening session on September 27.

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