Bill would prohibit exporting sacred tribal items

Bipartisan legislation reintroduced in the U.S. Senate would prohibit the export of sacred Native American items and increase penalties for stealing and illegally trafficking tribal cultural patrimony.

“By protecting and repatriating tribal cultural heritage, we are also actively preserving the cultural identity and history of our Native populations,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who reintroduced the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP) Act with Se. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, on July 18.

The companion bill in the House was introduced by Representatives Don Young, R-Alaska; Ben Ray Lujan and Deb Haaland, both D-NM, and Tom Cole, R-Okla.

Heinrich originally introduced the STOP Act in 2016. It was then marked up and passed out of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in 2018.

“This process of returning stolen items back to their rightful owners in our Native communities aids in the process of healing from cultural oppression,” Murkowski said. “The STOP Act simply works to right a wrong.

“Working to increase penalties for illegally trafficking cultural items and artifacts, providing an export certification system that protects these relics, and improving coordination between federal agencies working to protect and repatriate tribal artifacts, we can ensure that these items of such cultural importance remain with or are returned to their rightful owners.”

The STOP Act would establish a tribal working group to aid federal agencies and committees whose work involves protecting or facilitating repatriation of tribal cultural heritage. It would also increase penalties under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to aid in deterrence and prohibit the export of tribal cultural heritage obtained in violation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act or the Antiquities Act.