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U.S. Senate Seeks to Halt Illegal Trade of Native American Cultural Artifacts

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) have co-sponsored a bill in the United States Senate that seeks to end the illegal trade in Native American cultural artifacts.  The “Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act of 2016” (or STOP Act) would prohibit the exportation of any Native American cultural item or archaeological resource obtained in violation of the Native American Graves Protection Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA) and Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA) respectively. 

Cultural items and objects are defined under Section 2 of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act as human remains, “associated funerary objects” that are “presently in the possession or control of a Federal agency or museum, or other items exclusively made for burial purposes or to contain human remains”; “unassociated funerary objects”, which are “objects that, as a part of the death rite or ceremony of a culture, are reasonably believed to have been placed with individual human remains either at the time or death or later, where the remains are not in the possession or control of the Federal agency or museum and the objects can be identified by a preponderance of the evidence as related to specific individuals or families or to known human remains or, by a preponderance of the evidence, as having been removed from a specific burial site of an individual culturally affiliated with a particular Indian tribe; “sacred objects”; and “cultural patrimony.” (PL101-601; 25 USC 300-13; 104 Stat. 3042) 

 Archaeological resource is defined in Section 3 of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 as “any material remains of past human life or activities which are of archaeological interest, as determined under uniform regulations promulgated pursuant to this Act. Such regulations containing such determination shall include, but not be limited to: pottery, basketry, bottles, weapons, weapon projectiles, tools, structures or portions of structures, pit houses, rock paintings, rock carvings, intaglios, graves, human skeletal materials, or any portion or piece of any of the foregoing items. Non-fossilized and fossilized paleontological specimens, or any portion or piece thereof, shall not be considered archaeological resources, under the regulations under this paragraph, unless found in an archaeological context. No item shall be treated as an archaeological resource under regulations under this paragraph unless such item is at least 100 years of age.” (PL96-95; 93 Stat 721)

If the bill becomes law, the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act of 2016 would increase the penalty from 5 to 10 years in prison for those caught smuggling Native American cultural artifacts out of the United States.  According to KNAU Producer Ryan Heinsius, the bill was introduced after the United States Department of Justice and representatives of several Native American tribes tried unsuccessfully to halt the sale of Navajo and Hopi cultural objects sent to Europe.  The Paris based auction house Estimations Ventes aux Enchères, or EVE, has held six such sales of Hopi objects between 2013 and 2015.   

The Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act of 2016 is a bipartisan effort that has drawn support by the Navajo Nation Council and other Native American groups.

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