WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, led a legislative hearing to review the Safeguarding Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP) Act, a bill to curb the theft, illegal possession, sale, transfer, and export of Tribal cultural items.
Tribal cultural items have immense historical, traditional, and spiritual importance. It is illegal under federal law to own or sell Tribal cultural patrimony domestically, but federal law does not explicitly prohibit exportation abroad. The absence of an explicit export ban significantly hinders the efforts of Tribes to curb the theft and transfer of Tribal cultural items internationally. The STOP Act, which was introduced by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and cosponsored by Udall, would explicitly prohibit exportation of cultural items, increase penalties under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and establish a Tribal working group dedicated to preventing future mishandling of cultural items. Udall also authored the Protection of the Right of Tribes to stop the Export of Cultural and Traditional (PROTECT) Patrimony Resolution, which passed Congress in late 2016. The resolution officially condemns the theft, illegal possession, sale, transfer, and export of Tribal cultural items, and calls for several measures to be implemented to help identify and stop the illegal trafficking of Tribal cultural patrimony.
“There is much work to do,” Udall said. “[The STOP Act] is intended to provide Tribes with the tools they need to prevent the export of illegally obtained sacred objects.”
Udall has led a series of hearings on cultural sovereignty. The first two were field hearings in New Mexico. A hearing in Albuquerque, N.M., focused on protecting Tribal cultural patrimony. And a hearing in Santa Fe, N.M., examined efforts to crack down on the spread of fake Native American art.
“Helping fulfill the federal trust responsibility is a critical role for me,” said Udall, who also serves as lead Democrat on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. “I work to secure more funding for Tribal programs, to push for increased transparency and Tribal consultation, and to improve federal support for tribal cultural initiatives.”
Heinrich also testified at today’s hearing. “I’m proud to welcome the growing bipartisan support for my legislation to safeguard sacred Native American items,” said Heinrich. “We all recognize the incredible beauty of American Indian art–from the remnants of ancient wonders that we can explore and admire in places like Chaco Canyon and the Gila Cliff Dwellings to the traditional and modern art masterpieces created by Native artists to this day. But we can also recognize a clear difference between supporting tribal artists or collecting artifacts ethically and legally as opposed to dealing or exporting items that tribes have identified as essential and sacred pieces of their cultural heritage. I want to thank Chairman Hoeven and Vice Chairman Udall for holding a hearing on the STOP Act and Pueblo of Acoma Governor Kurt Riley for his testimony. I will continue working with my colleagues and tribal communities to ensure we build on this momentum so we can help repatriate stolen culturally significant items back to their rightful owners.”
The full text of Udall’s remarks as prepared for delivery is below.
Thank you Chairman Hoeven for calling today’s legislative hearing.
I am especially pleased to see S. 1400, the Safeguarding Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act of 2017, known as the STOP Act, on today’s agenda.
The STOP Act would prohibit the export of sacred Native American items and increase penalties for stealing and illegally trafficking tribal patrimony.
This is an important piece of legislation. S. 1400 is intended to provide Tribes with the tools they need to prevent the export of illegally obtained sacred objects. But I recognize there are concerns, particularly those of the Antique Tribal Arts Dealers Association. I stand ready to work with anyone who believes this bill can be improved to achieve its goals by providing substantive changes and recommendations.
This hearing is an opportunity to discuss the legislation, to talk about its impact on Tribal communities, and to discuss ways we can improve it.
I would like to thank my colleague from New Mexico, Senator Heinrich, for joining us today.
His dedication to protecting cultural patrimony — in particular by introducing the STOP Act – is commendable. I appreciate our partnership on this and many other issues affecting Tribes and Native Americans.
I’m also pleased that Governor Riley of Acoma Pueblo is here with us today.
Governor Riley is a tireless advocate for the people of Acoma. He knows all too well the importance of protecting Native American culture and tradition. Thank you Governor for taking time to travel all this way to be here and share your people’s experiences.
As vice chairman of this committee, ranking member on Interior Appropriations, and a member of the New Mexico congressional delegation charged with representing 23 Tribes in my home state, helping fulfill the federal trust responsibility is a critical role for me.
I work to secure more funding for Tribal programs, to push for increased transparency and Tribal consultation, and to improve federal support for Tribal cultural initiatives.
That’s why I introduced the PROTECT Patrimony Resolution last Congress, and why I made “The Cultural Sovereignty Series” of hearings a focus of my time as vice chairman.
The first hearing in the Cultural Sovereignty Series was an oversight hearing in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where we looked at the issues raised by the STOP Act. Governor Riley testified at that hearing – and helped provide us with a good record.
The second of the series was an oversight hearing in Santa Fe where we examined the shortcomings of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, and how criminals are counterfeiting authentic Indian art and crafts at incredible rates and selling them at hugely inflated prices.
I look forward to continuing this focus over the coming months. There is much work to do.
I hope the STOP Act and the Cultural Sovereignty Series will shed light on the extent of the problem and ultimately bring meaningful change.
Turning to S. 465: After decades of underfunding and neglect, it is not surprising that Indian Health Services has documented shortcomings. In fact, federal oversight agencies generally fail to live up to their obligations to Indian Country. Tribes should not be subjected to this continuing breach of trust any longer.
The trust responsibility does not end with IHS. It does not end with BIA. Every branch of the federal government must do its part, including Congress.
I’m proud to work with Chairman Hoeven this Congress to strengthen the Senate’s oversight role, and look forward to continuing to do so.
The Indian Affairs Committee has dedicated several hearings to addressing IHS, but we need to bring more federal oversight agencies and experts into our conversations about IHS reform.
The Office of Management and Budget, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General must answer for their role in improving accountability at IHS.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for calling this hearing. I look forward to the testimony from our witnesses.