Update on the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act (STOP Act) and the Terrorism Art Antiquity Revenue Prevention Act
There are two bills currently before the Senate that are serous cause for concern for collectors, museums, and dealers in Native American and international ethnographic art.
ATADA has already alerted its membership to the potential consequences of the STOP Act, S.3127/H.5854 which is currently before both House and Senate.
The STOP Act amends NAGPRA to specifically prohibit the export of Native American and Hawaiian objects deemed tribal patrimony. The definition of tribal cultural patrimony under NAGPRA is an object has present religious and ceremonial significance to a tribe today.
The STOP Act also makes it unlawful for any person to knowingly export from the United States any Native American “cultural items” obtained in violation of four existing U.S. statutes: NAGPRA, 18 USC § 1170, ARPA, and18 USC § 1866(b). A “cultural item” as defined in the ARPA is virtually any material remains of past human life or activities over 100 years old. To oversimplify a bit, the difference between an item that is lawful to collect and trade under ARPA and one that is illegal to trade is whether it was found or collected on private land, in which case it is generally deemed lawfully acquired, or found or collected on federal or Indian land in violation of law, including the 1906 Antiquities Act, when it not lawful to collect or trade.
The STOP Act also raises the penalty for a violation of any of the above existing laws from 5 years to 10 years. And finally, the bill adds a provision granting immunity from prosecution to anyone who “repatriates” an unlawfully obtained cultural object to the “appropriate” Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization within two years of the STOP Act’s implementation.
The STOP Act has no system for clearing artifacts that can be sold. The STOP Act does not identify the objects each tribe considers sacred or community owned. There are over 500 federally-recognized tribes. It is impossible for citizens to know what is deemed a cultural object by each tribe.
Proponents of the STOP Act have suggested that citizens can “ask the tribe” to determine if an item should be returned or can be sold. However, the law provides no permitting system, no staff or funding, no criteria, no standards of evidence, and no means of mediation or appeal.
The STOP Act’s 2-year “amnesty” window for the return of “unlawful” tribal cultural property by private collectors without prosecution implies that possession of all cultural objects is unlawful. The STOP Act is likely to cause unwarranted returns of thousands of lawfully owned and traded objects to tribes which do not want them. Collectors may be pressured to give up objects simply out of an abundance of caution. Alternatively, lack of clear criteria or means of compliance may result in virtually no returns at all.
ATADA has submitted testimony to both the House and Senate subcommittees on the STOP Act and is engaging directly with tribal governments to find better solutions to tribal concerns. Additional information on the STOP Act and contact information for legislators is linked below.