U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) issued the following statement today after the Eve auction house in Paris announced that it is canceling the sale of a shield used in religious ceremonies at Acoma Pueblo:
"This is welcome news, and I am pleased that pressure from the Pueblo, federal officials, and the public at large forced the auction house to cancel its sale. But it never should have come to this. The Pueblo of Acoma has previously been unable to halt similar foreign auctions of their cultural patrimony, resulting in profound damage to the Pueblo's control over their own sacred objects. The United States must do everything in its power to ensure that priceless Native American cultural artifacts are returned to their rightful homes instead of being sold off to the highest bidder."
Last week, Heinrich wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging the U.S. State Department to take all possible action to help repatriate stolen cultural items to Native American tribes. In the United States, it is illegal to sell ceremonial Native American items. However, in France, where an auction of the item was planned for today, it is not.
Senator Heinrich plans to introduce legislation soon that would prohibit the exporting of Native American religious or sensitive cultural items and strengthen penalties under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Senator Heinrich credits Dominic Peacock, a University of New Mexico student from Acoma Pueblo who interned in his Washington office last fall, for helping bring this issue to his attention and doing much of the early research used to draft the legislation. [press release]