Washington, D.C., May 24, 2016–The Pueblo of Acoma, Association on American Indian Affairs (International Repatriation Project), NCAI and others will be giving statements today opposing an upcoming sale of Indigenous sacred items and objects of cultural patrimony on May 30, 2016, in Paris, at Eve Auction House. Statements will be webcast from the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) at 3:30 p.m. EST.
“Circumstances surrounding the taking of our Ancestors and cultural items were often horrific, against Indigenous laws, and continue to take place illegally […]” states Honor Keeler (Cherokee Nation), the founding Director of the International Repatriation Project. “AAIA urges auction houses and collectors to consult with Native American governments, Indigenous repatriation experts, and Indigenous spiritual and medicine leaders whenever Indigenous items are suggested for sale.”
Meaningful consultation is at the heart of repatriation, and it is more than a mere 3-5 minute statement, but involves ongoing dialogue with Native Nations and Indigenous spiritual leaders. Consultation has been integral to repatriation procedures in the United States for over 25 years, and thousands of Native American Ancestors, funerary objects, sacred objects, cultural patrimony have been repatriated as a result. International Repatriation is also called for in the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“Consultation and repatriation will avoid future litigation,” states Keeler, “and for the items that are legitimately being sold, buyers will be ensured of not only complying with proper cultural protocols and ensuring they were not stolen, but of their authenticity. In fact, dialogue with tribal communities may even add provenance and value to legitimately held items…Unfortunately, without the authentication from a tribal representative, buyer beware! A buyer cannot be certain what they are purchasing is authentic. Even the most knowledgeable auction houses often do not know tribal histories, which are contained within tribal communities. Furthermore, the publications that auction houses use to educate themselves are severely lacking and often incorrect.” Keeler reiterated, “Indigenous Peoples are the experts of their own cultures.”
Central to the press conference today is the Eve Auction sale of Pueblo sacred items and cultural patrimony set to take place on May 30, 2016. Acoma Pueblo opposes the sale of its sacred items and cultural patrimony. In a May 13, 2016, letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, and Attorney General of the United States Loretta Lynch, the Acoma Pueblo states, “Under Pueblo of Acoma traditional law, it is illegal for any tribal member, who may have an item of cultural patrimony in their care, to sell or remove an item of Acoma cultural patrimony. This traditional law has been recognized by federal courts in New Mexico and Arizona.” Similarly, the United States criminalizes the actions of looters under its federal laws, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).
There is also broad Intertribal support across Native Nations in the U.S. to put an end to this practice, including several resolutions passed by the National Congress of American Indians, United South and Eastern Tribes, All Pueblo Council of Governors, and the Intertribal Council of Five Civilized Tribes who are opposed to international sales of Native American Ancestors, funerary objects, sacred objects, and cultural patrimony, and call forth Articles 11 and 12 of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and traditional laws. All of these efforts have been achieved through the work of the grassroots and Indigenous Working Group on International Repatriation, which advises the AAIA International Repatriation Project.
The Indigenous Elders and Medicine Peoples Council has also issued a formal statement opposing the sale and transfer of Native American Ancestors and cultural items. They state, “We, Aboriginal Indigenous Peoples, respect the sacredness of life on this land. The newcomers have not shown respect or understanding for our sacred way of life. It is this lack of understanding and respect that has led to the desecration and theft of our ancestor’s human being remains, their sacred belongings and our sacred places. Our ancestors lived in a holy way, which is powerfully connected to the natural world.” The Council goes on to say that “[t]hose seeking to steal and desecrate our ancestor’s human being remains and their belongings for profit, trade, recreation, development, so-called formal education or any other reason are violating our way of the life, the Creator’s Sacred Holy Cycle of Life and the Creator’s Natural Law.” Involvement of Indigenous spiritual leaders is also integral to international repatriation efforts.
The ongoing sales of Indigenous Ancestors, funerary objects, sacred objects, and cultural patrimony is a human rights abuse. However, auction houses, collectors, museums, and others have the opportunity to introduce ethical practices into their industry, consult with Indigenous Peoples and Native Nations, and ensure that this human rights abuse is addressed. The International Repatriation Project at the AAIA encourages them to “do the right thing” and engage in these efforts. In addition, the AAIA is willing to help facilitate such dialogue and encourages participation at its Indigenous International Repatriation Conference, Shifting the Burden, September 26-28, 2016, in Albuquerque, NM.
The International Repatriation Project stands with Native Nations and other Indigenous Peoples seeking international repatriation and is opposed to the sale of Indigenous Ancestors, funerary objects, sacred objects, and cultural patrimony in the private art market, calling it a human rights abuse. Such markets are integrally linked to the ongoing looting of Indigenous burial and sacred places. This profound disrespect for Indigenous Peoples must end.
More information about the International Repatriation Project can be found at www.indian-affairs.org. For additional information on international repatriation, please follow us on twitter: @Indrepatriation and facebook.