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At a press conference on Capitol Hill today, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M, announced the introduction of the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP) Act, a bill to prohibit the exporting of sacred Native American items and increase penalties for stealing and illegally trafficking tribal cultural patrimony.

The bill’s introduction comes after Heinrich worked in May to help halt the auction of a Pueblo of Acoma ceremonial shield that was scheduled to be sold at the EVE Auction House in Paris.

Tuesday, Heinrich was joined by tribal leaders at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque to discuss the details of the STOP Act and highlight the urgent need to stop the theft and sale of priceless Native religious and cultural items in international markets.

“The STOP Act will increase penalties for stealing and illegally trafficking tribal cultural patrimony,” Heinrich said. “It will also prohibit exporting these objects and create a tribal working group to help federal agencies better understand the scope of the problem and how to solve it. I am proud to work with tribes in New Mexico and across Indian Country to craft this legislation.

“Especially in a place like New Mexico, 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. We need to take all possible action to stop the latter and help repatriate stolen culturally significant items to their rightful owners.”