Leger Fernández Bill To Protect Sacred Tribal Cultural Patrimony Passes U.S. House Of Representatives

U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández

From the Office of U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The House of Representatives passed U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández’s (NM-03) bipartisan Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP) Act (H.R. 2930).

The bill was introduced in April alongside Representatives Don Young (R-AK), Tom Cole (R-OK) and Sharice Davids (D-KS).

“For years, many sacred, tribal cultural items not meant for commercial use were stolen, exported, and sold to the highest bidder,” Leger Fernández said. “Today, we acted to put an end to this and passed the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP) Act. This bill will provide American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and federal agencies the necessary tools to protect these sacred items. These cultural items should be with those who create them and know how to revere and protect them.”

Rep. Young said, “I am very grateful to my colleagues in the House for supporting our legislation to safeguard precious tribal crafts, heirlooms, and other items. Since its passage, the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act has been an important tool for bringing home Native American cultural items, including art, ceremonial goods, and sacred property. However, more must be done to ensure our Indigenous communities’ important cultural belongings are preserved and protected.

“Gaps in existing law have made it challenging to prohibit the export of Native American cultural items, leading to further loss of these precious materials. Very frankly, this is wrong. Alaska Natives have called our state home for a millennia, and as the state’s sole Representative, getting this bill across the finish line has been one of my highest priorities. I am grateful for the support and leadership of my fellow Member of the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples, Chairwoman Teresa Leger Fernández. I call on my friends in the Senate to bring up this bill for consideration and to help us send it to the President’s desk.”

The Senate companion bill was introduced by Senators Martin Heinrich and Lisa Murkowski.

“For years, I’ve been proud to work with Pueblos in New Mexico, the Jicarilla and Mescalero Apache Nations, the Navajo Nation, and Tribes across Indian Country to halt the trade of culturally significant items and repatriate stolen pieces to their rightful owners,” Sen. Heinrich said. “I thank Rep. Leger Fernández for successfully taking up this fight in the House. It’s clear that we have the support and the momentum to get the STOP Act across the finish line.”

The STOP Act is widely supported by Tribes across the country from New Mexico to Alaska.

“Our Creator and our ancestors thank Rep. Leger Fernandez of New Mexico’s third congressional district for introducing and championing the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act (STOP Act) in the House of Representatives,” said Chairman Wilfred Herrera Jr., All Pueblo Council of Governors. “The STOP Act represents a measure to protect our Creator’s and Ancestors knowledge systems we utilize to this very day to maintain our lives – without them, we cease to exist. To members of the House who voted for this legislation, thank you for recognizing cultural objects of patrimony and their protection as a priority for the United States, who serves as the protectorate entity of the Tribes. We look forward to continuing our work with Sen. Heinrich, the senior Senator of New Mexico, as he works towards securing its passage and signage by President Biden.”

“Today, we celebrate the passage of the STOP Act by the U. S. House of Representatives. The STOP Act is greatly needed to prevent the export of sacred tribal cultural heritage items that are already considered contraband when trafficked domestically. And, without the STOP Act, it is nearly impossible to bring those items home once they are abroad,” Pueblo of Acoma Gov. Brian D. Vallo said. “The STOP Act is an important bridge between existing laws within the United States and existing international treaty mechanisms. The Pueblo of Acoma has learned firsthand how important it is to have the STOP Act, and we have worked diligently alongside our Congressional Representatives to ensure its reintroduction in this Congress. I thank Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez and Sen. Martin Heinrich, for their unwavering support and deep understanding of why this legislation is necessary. I also thank tribal leaders and other advocates who have joined together to lift this legislation. We look forward to the STOP Act’s swift passage by the Senate and enactment into law.”

WATCH: Rep. Leger Fernández’s Floor Speech on the STOP Act


The United States is a signatory to the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transport of Ownership of Cultural Property, which can be used to request other countries to restrict the import of cultural property and facilitate repatriation process. Although the United States has enacted domestic laws to aid other countries in protecting their cultural property, it has not passed a domestic law to protect tribal cultural heritage items.

The Stop Act will fill this void and allow the United States to strengthen its ability to protect tribal cultural heritage and return items to Tribes that are found overseas.

The STOP Act:

  • Increases Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) penalties to aid in deterrence.
  • Explicitly prohibits the export of tribal cultural heritage trafficked in violation of NAGPRA and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA). Creates an export certification system where an exporter seeking to export an item that qualifies as a Native American cultural item or archaeological resource under NAGPRA or ARPA must apply for a certification, and only items legally obtained are eligible for a certification. Certain countries, such as 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 mechanisms to return illegally exported items.
  • Confirms the President’s authority to enter into agreements under a 1970 international treaty in order to request from other countries return of tribal cultural heritage. The United States has already entered into such agreements to protect other countries’ cultural heritage.
  • Creates a federal framework to support voluntary return of sacred items, including a referral program to allow the Department of the Interior to assist individuals in finding a tribe with a cultural affiliation to tribal cultural heritage they want to return.
  • Creates a federal working group to ensure coordination between federal agencies whose work involves protecting or facilitating repatriation of tribal cultural heritage.
  • Establishes a Native working group to aid federal efforts that involve protecting or facilitating repatriation of tribal cultural heritage

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