'We are appealing to the people of France and to the French authorities to honor our humanity' - Acoma Pueblo Gov. Kurt Riley
Senator says French Auction House Bowed to Public Pressure
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich says the sale of an Acoma religious artifact has been canceled by the Paris auction house that was offering it for sale.
“This is welcome news, and I am pleased that pressure from the Pueblo, federal officials, and the public at large forced the auction house to cancel its sale,” Heinrich said in a statement Monday afternoon. “But it never should have come to this.”
The Eve Auction House of Paris apparently pulled the item from the sale after U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell joined Heinrich in calling for French authorities to block the sale of the ceremonial shield that may have been stolen from Acoma Pueblo years ago.
“Auctioning off tribal sacred objects is extremely troubling not only because tribal law precludes the sale of these objects by individuals, but because items held by a dealer or collector are likely the results of wrongful transfer and may be for sale illegally,” Jewell said.
“I call upon the French government to work with the United States government and with tribes to find a path toward repatriating these cultural items which are at the heart of Native American heritage and identity,” she said.
The item in question is a painted Acoma leather and wood shield that Pueblo officials believe was wrongfully taken from the Pueblo. Jewell’s letter included an affidavit from the granddaughter of one of the tribe’s traditional leaders who cared for the shield. In the affidavit, she said the shield went missing during the 1970s when the family’s home was broken into.
It was not immediately clear whether the shield would be returned to New Mexico.
Earlier this week, Kurt Riley, the governor of Acoma Pueblo, called on the United States and France to work to halt the sale. The shield was listed for auction at between 5,000 and 7,000 Euros, or $5,600 to $7,800.
“I implore the Republic of France to take immediate forceful action to prevent this deplorable action,” Riley said.
Heinrich, an Albuquerque Democrat, joined the call for the auction’s halt on Thursday. In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Heinrich wrote, “The United States must do everything in its power to ensure that priceless Native American cultural artifacts are returned to the rightful homes instead of being sold off to the highest bidder.”
Legislation to stop the export of items of Native American Patrimony
In March, Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce of Southern New Mexico introduced a bill to curb the export of Native American religious and cultural artifacts. He has been involved with a multi-agency effort to persuade the French to stop the practice within their borders. Early last week, Pearce said the French “have not been terribly sensitive to our request” that the Eve auction be stopped.
At a news conference held at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of the American Indian, Riley, accompanied by Acoma religious leader Conroy Chino, a former Albuquerque TV journalist, sought to speak directly to the French people.
“We are appealing to the people of France and to the French authorities to honor our humanity and the value of our ancient traditional beliefs by stopping the sale and returning this item,” he said.
“When these items leave our Pueblo, this is how much it hurts,” Riley said, choking up. “For a person in my position to speak and express my emotions this way is maybe in some eyes not a role model for males, but this is how much it hurts my people when we see these cultural items put up for sale.”
Last year, he said, 24 culturally important items from Acoma Pueblo were put up in auction in 10 sales.
Former Bureau of Indian Affairs director Kevin Gover of Albuquerque, now with the National Museum of the American Indian, said that since 1989, under U.S. law, all museums that receive federal funds are legally bound to return items of Native American patrimony and human remains to their tribes.
A webcast of the event at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian can be seen here.