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Congressman Don Young Introduces Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation to Safeguard Tribal Items

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Don Young (R-AK), Republican Leader of the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples, and Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernández (D-NM), Chair of the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples, have introduced the STOP Act, bipartisan legislation to prohibit the exporting of sacred Native American items and increase penalties for stealing and illegally trafficking Tribal cultural patrimony. Upon introduction, Young and Leger Fernández were joined by Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK) and Congresswoman Sharice Davids (D-KS). The STOP Act has received the support of various tribes and Native organizations, including the Sealaska Heritage Institute.

"Since its passage, the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act has been an important tool for bringing home Native American cultural items, including art, ceremonial goods, and sacred property. However, more must be done to ensure our Indigenous communities' important cultural belongings are preserved and protected," said Young. "Gaps in existing law have made it challenging to prohibit the export of Native American cultural items, leading to further loss of these precious materials. Very frankly, this is wrong. Alaska Natives have called our state home for centuries, and as the state's sole Representative, I am proud to help introduce the STOP Act to return precious cultural property to the communities where they belong. I am grateful to my friend, Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez for her partnership on this critical issue, and I ask my colleagues to support our legislation.”

“We are extremely fortunate to have Congressman Don Young, who is intimately familiar with Alaska Native cultures, as Alaska’s sole representative,” said Rosita Kaaháni Worl, President, Sealaska Heritage Institute. “We applaud his efforts, along with his colleague Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernández, in working to protect America’s Indigenous cultures through the enactment of the STOP Act. Returning sacred objects to tribes is critical to their cultural survival.” 

“In New Mexico, we honor and cherish the history and culture of Native American communities,” said Leger Fernández. “We also respect that Tribal nations have the right to decide how they will preserve and handle their own cultural heritage. Unfortunately, the theft and illegal trafficking of sacred Tribal items for profit remains a worldwide problem. I am proud to partner with Senator Heinrich and introduce the STOP Act to protect priceless cultural patrimony and ensure stolen items are returned to their rightful owners.”

“Just as the United States helps protect and return foreign cultural property, it is only right for other countries to respect ownership of the sacred treasures, artifacts and other items belonging to Native Americans,” said Cole. “I am proud to join with my colleagues to reintroduce the STOP Act, which would be critical in combatting the trafficking of Native American artifacts. By stopping the illegal exportation of precious cultural property of Native Americans, we can preserve and safeguard their priceless history and heritage.”

“No one’s sacred and historical items should be stolen and trafficked for profit, but Native Americans and Native Hawaiians have been subjected to this practice for centuries,” said Davids. “Our people should have control over how and where these items are shared. I am proud to join my colleagues in the introduction of this bill to protect priceless cultural items for generations to come.”

The STOP Act:

  • Increases Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) penalties to aid in deterrence.
  • Explicitly prohibits the export of tribal cultural heritage obtained in violation of NAGRPA, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA). Creates an export certification system where an exporter seeking to export an item that qualifies as a Native American cultural item, archaeological resource, under NAGPRA, ARPA, must apply for a certification, and only items legally obtained are eligible for a certification. Certain countries, such as France, restrict import of cultural heritage illegally exported from a country that issues export certificates. The export prohibition paired with the export certification system will help the United States and tribes use those countries’ domestic laws and law enforcement mechanisms to return illegally exported items.
  • Confirms the President’s authority to enter into agreements under a 1970 international treaty in order to request from other countries return of tribal cultural heritage. The United States has already entered into such agreements to protect other countries’ cultural heritage.
  • Creates a federal framework to support voluntary return of sacred items, including a referral program to allow the Department of the Interior to assist individuals in finding a tribe with a cultural affiliation to tribal cultural heritage they want to return.
  • Creates a federal working group to ensure coordination between federal agencies whose work involves protecting or facilitating repatriation of tribal cultural heritage.
  • Establishes a tribal working group to aid federal agencies and committees whose work involves protecting or facilitating repatriation of tribal cultural heritage.

The STOP Act has also received the support of:

  • All Pueblo Council of Governors
  • Association of American Indian Affairs
  • Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums
  • Association of Village Council Presidents
  • Catawba Indian Nation
  • Duckwater Shoshone Tribe
  • Hopland Tribe
  • Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes
  • National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers
  • National Indian Head Start Directors Association
  • National Trust for Historic Preservation
  • Pueblo of Acoma
  • Pueblo of Santa Clara
  • Pueblo of Tesuque
  • Pueblo of Zuni
  • Sealaska Heritage
  • Society for American Archeology
  • American Anthropological Association and AAA Archaeology Division
  • American Cultural Resources Association
  • Archaeological Institute of America
  • National Trust for Historic Preservation
  • Society for Historical Archaeology
  • SRI Foundation


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