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Henry leads US Senate in historic vote to protect and return sacred Native objects

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Washington, DC – Native American governments are on the verge of receiving great help in their struggles to protect and return their sacred objects.

The Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP) Act, a rare bipartisan statute passed by both houses of Congress, has been lauded by local leaders for filling the loopholes in existing federal statutes governing trade in sacred objects and the Increased penalties for those who do so. The law was a personal priority for U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, who first introduced it in 2016 alongside Native American national leaders after a sacred shield stolen from Acoma Pueblo in the 1970s was discovered at a French auction turned up (it had since been withdrawn from auction and returned to Acoma).

“Our cultural heritage is critical to the continuity of our culture and to our survival. For over a century, the Acoma pueblo, as well as many tribes across the country, have experienced the illicit removal and trafficking of cultural assets that have left them lost for generations and absent from our most important communal ceremonies,” said the Governor of the Acoma pueblo , Brian Vallo told reporters when the law was reinstated in 2020.

The STOP Act increases penalties for trafficking in sacred objects covered by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), creates a federal certification process for Native American and archaeologically significant artifacts, and creates a federal working group to Federal agencies to advise and guide recovery of stolen artifacts.

\US Senator Martin Heinrich meets with Pueblo leaders, left to right: Chairman E. Paul Torres of the All Pueblo Council of Governors, former Governor Mark Mitchell of the Pueblo of Tesuque, Governor J. Michael Chavarria of Santa Clara Pueblo and Governor Kurt Riley of Acoma Pueblo, September 25, 2018.

“In drafting the STOP Act, I worked closely with the pueblos of New Mexico, the Jicarilla and Mescalero Apache Nations, and the Navajo Nation. I am proud that the law has found strong support across the Indian country and across party lines in both the House of Representatives and the Senate,” says Heinrich.

“Over the past six years, Senator Lisa Murkowski and I have successfully built bipartisan momentum to get the STOP Act across the finish line and on the President’s desk. There is a clear distinction between supporting Native American art ethically and legally as opposed to trading or exporting items that tribes have identified as essential and sacred parts of their cultural heritage. Once the STOP Law comes into effect, we will take an important step forward to stop the illegal and immoral trade in these culturally significant items and return stolen pieces to their rightful owners.”

The law passed unanimously by the US Senate earlier this week, just as national tribal leaders convened for the White House Tribal Nations Summit. The bill, a rare bipartisan bill that actually passed both houses of Congress, was first introduced in 2016 by New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich, where it garnered support but did not pass. It was reinstated in 2020 by Heinrich, a Democrat, and Alaskan Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican. The other U.S. Senator from New Mexico, Ben Ray Luján, is along with Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Mike Crape (R-Idaho), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Krysten Sinema (D- Ariz.), Mike Rounds (RS.D.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska). The House Companion will be chaired by U.S. Representatives Teresa Leger Fernández (DN.M.), Don Young (R-Alaska), Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) and was co-authored by U.S. Representatives co-sponsored Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), Brian Mast (R-Fla.), Aumua Amata Radewawan (R-American Samoa), and Karen Bass (D-California).

READ MORE: US Senator MARTIN HEINRICH’s comment on PASSING STOP ACT

Comment: Protection of tribal heritage

Comment: Protection of tribal heritage

Commentary by US Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM). Martin Heinrich is the senior US Senator from New Mexico. He previously served as US Representative and Albuquerque City Councilman. Last night, the…

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