Pueblo of Acoma Governor Kurt Riley, left, discusses efforts to protect the trafficking of cultural patrimony in Washington, D.C., on July 6, 2016. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Pueblo of Acoma reclaims sacred items with help of federal authorities

The Pueblo of Acoma celebrated the return of sacred objects and other items of cultural patrimony that were stolen from the tribe.

The tribe secured the return of the items with the help of federal authorities. A special agent from the Bureau of Indian Affairs was instrumental in recovering a sacred shield that was being sold by an art gallery.

“The Pueblo of Acoma has been a vocal and strong advocate for the protection of sacred items and items of cultural patrimony illegally taken from tribal homelands,” Governor Kurt Riley said on Wednesday following a ceremony at the Sky City Cultural Center and Haak’u Museum on the tribe's reservation in New Mexico.

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 tribe used the ceremony to call attention to the failure of the government in France to return another shield that was stolen from the reservation. The U.S. Attorney's Office in New Mexico has filed a warrant to have the item returned after it too was put up for sale.

"Sadly, we all too often find sacred, religious, and culturally significant items being sold at art markets, flea markets and in galleries," U.S. Attorney John C. Anderson said in a press release. "In keeping with federal law, we will continue to do everything in our power to locate such objects and deliver them to their rightful homes.”

According to the complaint filed in the France case, the shield that was returned to the tribe was recovered in 2015 from an art gallery in Bozeman, Montana. BIA Special Agent Frank Chavez made sure it got back to Acoma.

“The proactive work demonstrated by Special Agent Chavez in working closely with all involved makes us proud," said Tara Sweeney, the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior.

Federal laws like the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act address the domestic trade of tribal property. But there are few protections when cultural patrimony goes overseas.

"This is monumental in the national and international effort to return sacred objects back to their rightful homes," Governor Riley said. "Acoma will continue to collaborate with our federal partners to end the trafficking and illegal sales of protected tribal cultural items.”

Read More on the Story
New Mexico tribe celebrates return of pueblo cultural items (The Associated Press December 19, 2018)

Government Accountability Office Report
GAO-18-537: Native American Cultural Property: Additional Agency Actions Needed to Assist Tribes with Repatriating Items from Overseas Auctions (September 2018)

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