Bill would prohibit export of sacred tribal items

Bipartisan legislation introduced in Congress in early May would prohibit the export of sacred Native American items and increase penalties for stealing and illegally trafficking tribal cultural patrimony, property inherited from one’s male ancestor.

The STOP Act has already received support from various tribes and Native organizations including the SeaAlaska Heritage Institute and the Association of Village Council Presidents. 

The legislation explicitly prohibits the export of tribal culture heritage obtained in violation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and Archaeological Resources Protection Act.

It creates a system where an exporter seeking to export an item that qualifies as a Native American cultural item or archaeological resource under NAGPRA and ARPA must apply for a certification and only items legally obtained are eligible for a certification. Some countries, including France, restrict import of cultural heritage illegally exported from a country that issues export certificates. The export prohibition paired with the export certification system will help the United States and tribes use those countries’ domestic laws and law enforcement.

The legislation would also create a mechanism to return illegally exported items, according to sponsors, including Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, and Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez, D-N.M., chair of the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples. Other backers of the bill include Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., and Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kan.