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U.S. Senate Bill Aims to Prevent Overseas Trafficking of Native American Sacred Objects

Andrew Hamik/AP

A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators recently reintroduced a bill aimed at preventing the illegal sale of Native American cultural items. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports, it follows years of high-profile auctions in Paris. 

The Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony, or STOP Act, is designed to strengthen U-S authority to prevent overseas trafficking of the ceremonial objects. It also stiffens penalties for illegal exporters.

Hopi, Navajo and Acoma Pueblo leaders say many of the sacred items are obtained unlawfully, and they’re working to stop the auctions.

Leigh Kuwanwisiwma is the director of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office.

"It’s just really hurtful to see such important religious items being sold … These are living entities and they are under the care and stewardship of the Hopi people, and their rightful homes are here in the Hopi villages, so yes, that's how we treat them is cultural patrimony," says Kuwanwisiwma.

The STOP Act would create a tribal working group to assist with repatriating recovered objects.

U.S. law already restricts the sale of some Native American sacred items, but the current regulations don’t apply in France. The U.S.-based Holocaust Art Restitution Project and several other organizations have condemned the Paris auctions. 

Ryan Heinsius was named interim news director and managing editor in January 2024. He joined KNAU's newsroom as an executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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