Tribal leaders testify at a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs field hearing in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on October 18, 2016. From left: Governor Kurt Riley of Acoma Pueblo Governor Eddie Paul Torres of Isleta Pueblo, President Russell Begaye of the Navajo Nation. Photo by Senator Tom Udall
Tribal leaders are calling on the federal government to do more to prevent their sacred property from being sold to the highest bidder.
Tribes have become increasingly alarmed as auction houses around the world have put hundreds of items up for sale. Due to legal, financial, political and cultural barriers, they say it's incredibly difficult to them to recover what's rightfully theirs.
"Mooney is attached to everything," Governor Eddie Paul Torres of Isleta Pueblo said at a Congressional field hearing in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Tuesday. "Even if it was stolen from a house, it was sold and somebody paid for it."
"When sacred objects are found," Torres continued, "you've got to figure out a way to get them without putting up that red flag. Because if you don't, it's going to disappear and you'll never see it again."
Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), at podium, and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) discussed efforts to protect tribal property at a press conference prior to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs field hearing in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on October 18, 2016. Photo by Tara Gatewood
Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), a member of the committee, chaired the field hearing as lawmakers from both parties take greater notice of the problem. He's sponsoring S.Con.Res.49, otherwise known as the PROTECT Patrimony Resolution, which calls on the federal government to work more closely with tribes to stop the theft, sale and export of tribal items and to return them to their rightful owners.
"Some people are exploiting the loopholes in our current laws -- laws that are meant to stop the theft of important cultural items," Udall said at the Indian Pueblo Cultural
Center in downtown Albuquerque. "And they have exported deeply important sacred objects to other countries to be sold as art."
Sen. Martin Heinrich
(D-New Mexico) also attended the hearing. He's sponsoring another bill -- S.3127, the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act (STOP Act) -- that would increase penalties for people who traffic in tribal property.
"While we must improve federal law to create a stronger legal deterrence, we also need to change the hearts and minds of art collectors and dealers who are engaging in it," Heinrich said.
Dealing or exporting items that tribes have identified as essential and sacred pieces of their cultural heritage must be...