'Homecoming': Pueblo of Acoma set to reclaim sacred item
Monday, November 18, 2019
By Acee Agoyo
The Acoma Shield is finally coming home after years in legal and political limbo.
The sacred item was taken from the Pueblo of Acoma in New Mexico in the early 1970s. It ended up in France, where it went up for auction until diplomatic efforts halted the sale at the last minute back in 2016.
The shield, however, remained in France, triggering new legal and political battles. But those are finally over and the tribe is ready to reclaim an important piece of its heritage.
"Acoma has looked forward to this day for the last four years, steadfastly working with many people for this result," Governor Brian D. Vallo said on Monday morning. "The Pueblo of Acoma is deeply grateful for the assistance of the many parties who have supported us in our efforts to reclaim the Acoma Shield.”
The tribe is hosting a press conference at the Bureau of Indian Affairs office in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the morning to discuss the historic return of the Acoma Shield. Gov. Vallo will be joined by U.S. Attorney John Anderson, James Langenberg of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and James “Jim” James from the BIA.
"The Pueblo of Acoma has waited years for the return of the Shield after successfully halting its sale at auction," Vallo said. "The shield is integral to the cultural sustainability of the Acoma people and is a significant item of our cultural patrimony."
Vallo credited federal officials with helping secure the return of its sacred property. But he also thanked a New Mexico man named Jerold Collings, whose family had possession of the item for "several decades."
According to a claim filed in federal court, Collings "inherited" the shield after his mother passed away in 1984. He said it had been kept in a box until around 2012 and he denied any knowledge of it being stolen or taken from the tribe.
"Claimant is an innocent owner of the shield," the filing said of Collings.
In a separate court filing, Collings admitted he shipped the shield to the EVE Auction House in France. He denied having it "smuggled out of the United States."
But after the tribe informed Collings "of the shield’s importance to the Pueblo, he cooperated with Pueblo leadership to secure its return to Acoma," Gov. Vallo said.
settlement agreement was reached in July, paving the way for its release to federal officials. From there, the shield will be given back to the tribe.
"Its homecoming is critical and highly sensitive," Vallo added. "With absolutely no intent to diminish the great effort of achieving this momentous return, we continue to ask the public for privacy as the Pueblo prepares to welcome the shield home."
For years, the EVE Auction House has repeatedly sold tribal property over the objections of Indian nations and the United States. The company has long insisted that it acquired all items in compliance with French law.
Since the items are outside of the U.S., laws such as the Native American Graves
Protection and Repatriation Act cannot be used to reclaim them.
In the case of the Acoma Shield, federal authorities instead cited the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and a stolen goods law in hopes of having it returned to its rightful owner.
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Federal officials and Tribal Leaders of the Pueblo of Acoma will hold a press conference at 10:00 a.m., on Monday, November 18, 2019, at the offices of the Bureau of the Indian Affairs in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to make a significant announcement regarding an important item of cultural patrimony.
WHO: The Honorable John C. Anderson
U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico
The Honorable Brian Vallo
Governor of the Pueblo of Acoma
James C. Langenberg
Special Agent in Charge, FBI Albuquerque Division
James “Jim” James
Deputy Bureau Director-Field Operations, Bureau of Indian Affairs
Member, Pueblo of Ohkay Owingeh
WHAT: Press Conference
WHEN: Monday, November 18, 2019 at 10:00 a.m. MST
WHERE: Bureau of Indian Affairs – Southwest Regional Office
Conference Room 133 on the First Floor
1001 Indian School Road NW
Albuquerque, NM 87104