ATADA Position

ATADA Position on Recent AAIA Claims

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.

Legislative Alert - ATADA's Position Regarding the STOP Act

ATADA’s position regarding the
“Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act (STOP Act)”


ATADA asks its members and supporters to write letters and/or send emails or faxes about the proposed bills, S. 3127, and H. 5854, the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act (STOP Act) to their own senators and representatives and to members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

ATADA is committed to working with all tribes regarding patrimonial objects. We are currently discussing the law and working to build bridges between tribal communities, tribal artists, art dealers and collectors. However, ATADA has identified many serious issues with S. 3127.

  • The STOP Act is unnecessary because export for sale of unlawfully acquired artifacts is already illegal under ARPA and NAGPRA.
  • The STOP Act does not identify the objects each tribe considers sacred or community owned. 
  • The STOP Act creates no administrative body or standards for determination of what is claimed.
  • The STOP Act will damage businesses, cost jobs, and reduce tax revenue.
  • While voluntary donation of important sacred objects should be encouraged, tribal legal claims for restitution of unlawfully possessed objects belong in the courts, not in wholesale restitutions.
  • The STOP Act will result in consumer confusion and harm Native artisans and legitimate businesses because of the assumption that all Indian artifacts are tainted by illegality.
  • The STOP Act needs additional consultation with tribes and with other impacted US stakeholders, including collectors, dealers, academics, and museums.

A complete summary of these issues can be found in our Summary of Issues - STOP Act.

Use the buttons below to download complete copies of Senate Bill 3127 and House Bill 5854, which is identical to the Senate bill. 

Contact Your Legislators

Use this list to find your local Representative:

Use this list to find your Senators:

We have compiled a list of Senators and Representatives on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairsand the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.

Tips for writing a great letter to a legislator:

  • State that your letter is about Senate Bill 3127 / House Bill 5854, the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP Act).
  • Say who you are. Anonymous letters go nowhere. Include your correct name, address, phone number and email address. Otherwise, you will not get attention or a response.
  • State any professional credentials or personal experience you may have, and how long you have been involved in the Native American art field.
  • Keep your letter short — one page is best.
  • Use specific examples to support your position.
  • State what it is you want done – don’t pass the STOP Act, or fix the STOP Act so it does not damage important American values and harm US collectors, art dealers, Native artists, and museums. Express your own feelings about the STOP Act.
  • Thank the member for taking the time to read your letter. NEVER be rude or aggressive.

Please note: This linked list of Senators and Representatives on the Senate and House Indian Affairs Committees has the webpages for sending emails as well. These email links almost always require you to be a resident of the state or district of the senator or representative. However, you can send a letter via mail to any senator or representative. It shows that you (and probably many others who do not bother to write) really care!

Sample Letter

Here is a sample letter to a US Senator. Please make your letter your own by personalizing it and including the issues that are most important to you. You can add from the issues mentioned above or outlined in the above referenced Summary of Issues - Stop Act.
An editable copy of the letter (MS Word format) is available for download by clicking the button.

••• Sample Text •••

The Honorable _______________ 

(Room #) (Name) Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator:

My name is ________. I live in _________. I am interested in Native American art because _________.

I am deeply concerned that Senate Bill 3127 / House Bill 5854, the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP Act) will harm ________ (For example, collectors, art dealers, Native artists, museums, or educational institutions) and the public interest.

I believe that the STOP Act is not necessary; US laws already prohibit illegal trafficking in Native American artifacts. The STOP Act does not identify the objects each tribe considers sacred or community owned. There are hundreds of thousands of items of Native art that have circulated in the market for decades. It is impossible for owners of objects collected over many years to know what is deemed a cultural object by each tribe, or to know which tribe might claim an object. The law does not create any system for determining if an artifact is safe to sell. Yet the penalties for selling an object claimed as cultural property are very high!

The STOP Act will require a huge bureaucracy to identify this volume of material, almost all of which came from ordinary trade. The STOP Act will damage businesses, cost jobs, and reduce tax revenue, especially in the Southwest, where art and tourism are important to municipalities and to Native artisans. The STOP Act is unworkable, impractical and ill-considered.

Thank you for your attention to my letter.


(Your Name, Address, and Telephone)

Sponsoring Senators

Below is a list of sponsoring Senators (four of these also serve on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee).

Senator Martin Heinrich, New Mexico
303 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
(202) 224-5521

Senator Tom Udall, New Mexico
531 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
(202) 224-6621

Senator Jeff Flake, Arizona
413 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
(202) 224-4521

Senator John McCain, Arizona
218 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
(202) 224-2235

Senator Jon Tester, Montana
311 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
(202) 224-2644

Senator Lisa Murkowski, Alaska
709 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
(202) 224-6665

Senator Steve Daines, Montana
320 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
(202) 224-2651

Legislative Alert - The Ivory Ban - ATADA's Position

The Ivory Ban: ATADA’s Position

ATADA is dedicated to the highest standards of dealing and collecting antique tribal art and, as our members are composed of collectors, dealers, and museum staff, ATADA is well positioned, in terms of knowledge and experience, to address the issues surrounding the new Federal ban on Ivory.

In ATADA’s initial estimation, the ivory ban fails on many counts and it will NOT work for the intended purpose. The ivory ban does too little, too late, in order to have any significant impact on African and Asian elephants killed by poachers today. The ivory ban is a piece of “looks good” legislation that does not address the core issue. More importantly for ATADA, it adversely impacts our law-abiding antique dealers, collectors, and museums, no to mentions others, like musicians, who possess legal antique objects made of, or containing, ivory.

ATADA asserts that judging someone who buys or sells a piece of antique ivory art as “guilty until proven innocent” is the wrong methodology to use and it certainly will not prevent the contemporary killing of elephants.  At present, the emphasis of the ivory ban is to divert media attention and resources from the real problem, thereby providing the false impression that it will stop illegal poaching and save the elephant. Unfortunately, it won’t and the reality exists that extinction of the elephant could occur within the next 10 years if we do nothing to stop this issue at the source. The ivory ban, as it exists in the law now, will not extend the lifetime of the elephant by a single day and, concurrently, it penalizes countless of Americans who have done nothing wrong.

At the core, ATADA agrees with the Cato Institute: Americans should work together to save elephants with policies that actually address the problem and which respect people’s basic constitutional rights and liberties. Reports from Africa indicate that one elephant is being killed every 15 minutes. Only direct and immediate action at the source can prevent the elephant from becoming extinct. What is needed is enforcement of existing anti-poaching laws in the country of origin and preservation of habitat. The United States needs to direct funds and efforts at the problem abroad.

ATADA supports approaching the antique ivory trade with clear reason and guidelines. To quote ATADA attorney/collector Roger Fry, “It is ATADA’s position that the illegal killing of elephants for their ivory needs to be stopped at the source. The current proposal imposing prohibitions on the purchasing and selling of old, legally collected ivory in the USA may give the appearance of doing something to stop the illegal killing of elephants but, realistically, it is doubtful that it will save a single animal. The concept of shifting the burden of proof to the seller is inconsistent with our time tested rule that the state has the burden of proof.”

According to the guidelines, in order for an object made of, or containing, ivory to qualify as antique, the current owner must show that the item meets all of the following criteria:

  • It is 100 years or older;
  • It is composed in whole or in part of an ESA-listed species;
  • It has not been repaired or modified with any such species after December 27, 1973; and
  • It is being or was imported through an endangered species “antique port.”

Of particular note for many Native American art collectors is that this ban will NOT affect ivory derived from other species such as walrus, warthog, hippopotamus, mammoth and mastodon. Of course, it is possible to identify elephant ivory from other types of ivory however, as we often emphasize, buyer beware and proceed with caution if you intend to sell or purchase a product made of, or containing, ivory.  When purchasing, be sure to always ask for documentation that shows the species of AND the age of the ivory item you are purchasing. This documentation could include CITES permits or certificates, certified appraisals, documents that detail date and place of manufacture, etc.

To clarify some points about this new Federal Ivory Ban, ATADA defers to the official resource about the regulation as put forth by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.  There are basic vocabulary terms, necessary documentation, and understanding of the history of the bundle of the laws that surround this regulation that we recommend everyone with an interest (either commercial or personal) should familiarize themselves with before proceeding with sales/purchases/transfers of ivory antiques.  We strongly recommend consulting the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website found at

Here are some more helpful links that add to this conversation:

A short video clip of Representative Fleming discussing the subject of the Federal Ban on Ivory with a Fish and Wildlife Service representative (Representative Fleming makes his key point at about the 5 minute mark):


A Summary of ATADA's Position On Recent Federal Raids

Why is ATADA concerned with the recent federal raids?

The buying and selling of Native American art is a huge part of the national economy.

The publication Indian Trader recently quoted the director of the Department of the Interior Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB) as stating that the contemporary market in Native American art may approach a billion dollars annually.  The director of the Albuquerque-based Indian Arts and Crafts Association stated that the market is at least 750 million dollars annually even after the recent decline. There are hundreds of art galleries and thousands of Native Americans, many still living a traditional life, who buy and sell Native American art for their livelihood.  This business is important to the national economy and is unique to the western states. Many tourists come here to buy Indian art and the money spent turns over many times in the community.

The Indian art trade has suffered serious harm as a result of unfair and inaccurate publicity. Buying and selling Indian art is legal, yet fear and uncertainty have directly impacted the economy.

There has been a spill-over effect resulting from legitimate public concerns over looting and damage to archaeological sites. Due to uncertainty of the legal status of ancient, old, and even contemporary artworks, the market as a whole has constricted.

Not only art dealers, but also contemporary Indian artisans are now seeing their arts and crafts sales decline.

Casual collectors and tourists do not distinguish between old and new or sacred and profane, and indeed these lines are often unclear to the expert. Questioning the legality of any type of Native American artifact affects the market for it.  If the press says that a kachina doll, a fetish, a dance rattle, a basket, or a pot may be subject to repatriation without pointing out that the repatriation provision affects only ceremonial items in federally funded museums, this will affect the entire market.  By destabilizing the  American Indian art market, the government is harming native arttraditions and culture as well as eliminating the livelihood of Native American artists. 

The serious collecting community, which is the backbone of the American Indian museum scene is paralyzed by the legal uncertainty.

After last year’s raids, collectors are afraid to purchase new items or to show or share their collections. Misinformation in the press has created tremendous uncertainty in the public mind – many now believe they cannot own older pieces or anything once used in a ceremonial context.


Grave robbers and diggers who take artifacts from federal or Indian lands should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Stolen artifacts should be returned.

However, there should be repose for artifacts that have been traded since before ARPA and which have no history of unlawful trade, as envisioned in the statute. The laws state that artifacts that were illegally taken from federal or Indian lands are not legal to trade in. The laws state that objects from private lands and objects legally sold are legal to trade in, to pass to children, or to give to museums.


The problem is that the lawful or unlawful source of hundreds of thousands of items simply cannot now be known. If artifacts are held to be guilty until proven innocent, they will remain in legal limbo, without a future.

 These objects should not be “orphans” but free for trade, inheritance and donation, as envisioned under ARPA. A federal judge in New Mexico has noted that making trade in these objects of unknown origin illegal would criminalize the innocent actions of thousands of Americans who purchased Indian items before passage of ARPA and now wish to pass them on to family or to donate them to museums.

There has been a very active trade in Native American art and artifacts involving hundreds of thousands of artifacts since the 1880s, long before any law regulating collection or trade was passed. For nearly seventy years after passage of the first law in 1906, Indian goods including antiquities continued to be regularly sold by Indians to tourists on reservations, traded through curio and pawnshops and sold at auction. Many of the goods that were circulating openly in the market prior to 1979, when Congress passed ARPA, have no history of their original find-spot.


U.S. museums have been encouraged to treat objects as “guilty until proven innocent.” This ill-considered policy will continue to harm the public interest into the far future.

Fearful of public criticism, U.S. museums have taken steps to self-police acquisitions that go far beyond the requirements of the law. But these self-policing activities are already backfiring on museums – many cannot accession long-promised collections simply because no records were kept back in the time when no record-keeping requirement existed. To impose a requirement now for documentation on materials purchased in good faith long ago is a task beyond the ability of collectors to accomplish. To move the burden of proof on these issues from government to the individual, while at the same time moving historical goal posts, is bad practice and bad law.

Dealers and collectors are under attack. It is ATADA’s duty to respond.

 “It is potentially problematic to deal in this stuff. You don’t always know the provenance of an object. All the more reason for the public to avoid buying antiquities. I’d like the trade to dry up.” – anonymous Federal enforcement agent as quoted in August 20, 2010 issue of Pasatiempo. Similar statements have been made by professional archaeologists. Notice that such sentiments do not distinguish between the tiny fraction of illegally removed older or ceremonial items and the bulk of the market which is non-controversial and entirely legal.


 If ATADA does not speak up, who will?

United we stand, divided we fall!

See excerpts of stories and ATADA’s responses in the Fall 2010 issue of The ATADA News.


The federal raids and ATADA’s responses

Raids and ATADA’s Responses In early 2009, the FBI took its long anticipated action to enforce the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA)and the Native American Graves Protection Act of 1990 (NAGPRA) by staging multiple simultaneous armed raids in Blanding and elsewhere in Utah and the Four Corners region. Somewhat surprisingly, these were followed with a set of raids in Santa Fe in June, 2009.

In early August, 2009, a set of negative articles about collecting Native American Art appeared simultaneously in the all the Santa Fe and Albuquerque newspapers. ATADA was unprepared. We had never seen such an onslaught of negative publicity. This was coupled with misinformation and incomplete information in the media accounts. We had no good means to combat it.

One highlight of the week was the Art in the Law talk. Because of the publicity, the session was well attended. It was not surprising how eager the audience was to hear the discussion of the law. The questions showed a general need for education on the relevant laws which we continue to address in our Art and the Law sessions. In November, 2009, the Board of Directors took the first-ever step of holding a retreat at a time not associated with a show. This retreat was held in Kansas City shortly after the opening of the new American Indian Art wing at the Nelson Atkins Museum. We had quite thorough discussions of the current issues. One session was devoted to a thorough rewrite of the Bylaws. The ATADA bylaws have been rewritten to reflect the changes in direction that have occurred in recent years. One result of the retreat was the formation of a new Legislative Education Committee. This committee met many times during the winter and spring and has met with several newspaper editorial boards as well as with Congressman Ben Lujan’s (D-NM) staff. The committee hopes that other ATADA members will use this model to take on similar meetings in their own states.

Early in the summer of 2010, Kate Fitz Gibbon wrote a 32-page booklet entitled “Native American Art and the Law: A Collector’s Guide.” This user-friendly booklet is written in language that the average collector can readily understand. Copies were distributed to all members in August. 

Also at the Santa Fe August 2010 shows, the Legislation Education committee conducted a seminar entitled “THE FEDERAL RAIDS: Myth & Fact.” This first-person account of the Four Corners raids played to a packed house and generated very good press for ATADA. Minutes of this discussion are available in the ATADA News Fall 2010 issue. The next day, there was a very lively discussion at the ATADA 2010 Annual Meeting.