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Pearce Leads Effort To Protect Tribal Artifacts

Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM 2)

Commentary: Congress agreed to H Con Res 122, Congressman Steve Pearce’s PROTECT Patrimony Resolution. This resolution makes it the policy of the United States Congress to condemn the theft, illegal possession or sale, and export of cultural and religious tribal artifacts, while also calling on the federal government to do more to combat these actions. As a leader in Congress on Native American issues, Congressman Pearce issued the following statement on H Con Res 122’s adoption:

“The cultures, religions, and histories of the tribal people that have lived on the land for thousands of years are deeply embedded in what it means to be New Mexican,” said Pearce. “Without the preservation, protection, and teaching of these histories, New Mexico and our nation will be fundamentally different. Despite a number of laws designed to combat the illegal theft and sale of these items, they are still lost to the highest bidder far too often. We can do more, and we must do more.

“Just in the last few years, multiple tribes within New Mexico have been the victim of these illegal practices. Despite national and international law opposing the practice, the tribes I represent have had religious symbols, artifacts, and remains illegally taken and placed on auction blocks in France. While not well known, it is a practice we should all want to end. However, we cannot afford to blindly introduce more legislation that will add bureaucratic or duplicative layers on our enforcement system and may cause these artifacts to be lost forever. What we need, and what this resolution creates, is a comprehensive audit of what is working within our current system, what is broken, and what is the best path forward to ending this horrific practice that sees essential pieces of Native American culture and history being stolen and sold.

“I thank my colleagues in Congress for working with me on this initiative. Most importantly, agreement of this resolution would not have been possible without tribal leaders’ nationwide coming together to raise awareness. This is a true instance of Congress responding to the will and demands of the people,” continued Pearce.

BACKROUND: In 2013, a New Mexico Pueblo reached out to Congressman Pearce’s office to help retrieve sacred masks.  The Congressman’s office worked to ensure a majority of these items were returned.  This year, a number of cultural items were listed for auction overseas; one item was a shield from the Acoma Pueblo.  The shield was eventually withdrawn from auction. 

The Congressman introduced the PROTECT Patrimony Resolution in on March 2, 2016.  In early July, Congressman Pearce, Chairman Bob Goodlatte, and Chairman James Sensenbrenner initiated a request with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine how the federal government currently investigates the theft and sale of tribal items and what reforms can be made to further prevent this practice in the future. On August 11, 2016 the GAO accepted this request and committed to begin their examination at the beginning of 2017.