Recent statements by the Association on American Indian Affairs have called for museums not to exhibit and auction houses to cease sales of a wide range of Native American objects in commercial circulation, unless exhibition or sale is approved by tribes. ATADA, the largest U.S. organization of dealers in antique and contemporary Native American and global ethnographic art, objects strongly to these statements, which we believe will harm the legitimate art trade, Native artisans, and the American public.
The 140 years of lawful trade and production of tribal arts cannot be denied or dismissed. Working together, recognition of the legitimate trade can be a platform for public education and can spur legislative action helping tribes. ATADA worked in cooperation with tribes in submitting legislation to Congress in 2018, and will do so again. As ATADA has demonstrated in its public education programming, educating the public on art should be combined with education on tribal values.
Native peoples have suffered greatly from past government policies that included brutal suppression of traditional life-ways and forced assimilation. Loss of cultural artifacts in the past should not obscure current issues, including the taking of tribes’ economic resources, such as oil, gas, and minerals that deserve the attention of all Americans.
The art trade is committed to responsible due diligence, professional practices and following the law.
U.S. museums, dealers, and private collectors have both goodwill and a desire for cooperative future work with tribes. Auction houses and art dealers are ready to listen and to learn. The President and Board of Directors of ATADA express their willingness to work together with sovereign tribes to find a shared path that benefits both Native American peoples and the entire American public.
ATADA is committed to working together with Indian tribes to preserve objects of religious importance in tribal hands. ATADA was the first organization to bring large numbers of important objects back to tribes through the ATADA Voluntary Returns Program, returning over 150 ceremonial objects in just the last two years.
ATADA wants to ensure safe, tribal-supervised preservation of ceremonial objects and will work with tribes to bring legislation forward to:
bring objects and ancestral remains under federal government control back to tribes, and
build tribal government capacity by funding cultural offices and developing tribal legislation.
ATADA supports protecting the cultural landscape by reviving tracking mechanisms for damage, theft, and archaeological losses, which the federal government ceased collating in 2011.
Achieving these important goals requires cooperation, dealing with the facts, and staying within the parameters of U.S. law. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) were expressly designed to preserve sites and monuments, and to address the wrongful taking of Indian ancestral remains, objects used in current religious ceremonies, and communally-owned cultural patrimony. Neither law covered objects made for individuals or for lawful trade. Neither law discouraged collection of Indian art in general. In fact, one of ARPA’s purposes was to foster cooperation between the government, archaeologists, and private individuals holding collections of Native American art. (16 U.S.C. § 470aa(a)(4)).
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