Category Archives: UN

Pearce Introduces PROTECT Patrimony Resolution to Congress

Washington, D.C., March 2, 2016

Congressman Steve Pearce (R-NM) introduced the Protection of the Right of Tribes to Stop the Export of Cultural and Traditional Patrimony (PROTECT Patrimony) Resolution on March 2, 2016, to the House of Representatives. Support for the PROTECT Patrimony followed an effort by Acoma Pueblo and other tribes to stop the sale and export of cultural patrimony from sacred places and burial places to other countries.

Congressman Pearce states that, “New Mexico is home to over 20 tribal entities that add deeply to our culture and heritage. Fundamental to protecting this past is educating present and future generations. Items with a cultural, traditional, and historical importance are essential to this education and promotion of our diverse history. Sacred cultural items continue to be highly sought after and sold both domestically and internationally. We as New Mexicans and we as Americans have a responsibility to bring this practice to a halt. My resolution calls on the federal government to work with our nation’s tribal entities and allies globally to combat the theft, illegal possession, transfer, sale, and export of these cultural objects.

The Resolution recalls several Intertribal Resolutions passed through the efforts of Native Nations, the International Repatriation Project currently working with the Association on American Indian Affairs and the Working Group on International Repatriation, comprised of Native Nations, traditional leaders, and others working on international repatriation efforts. These include Resolutions passed by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET), and the InterTribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes.

Governor Kurt Riley of the Pueblo of Acoma supported the Resolution, stating, “In the past year, there were 10 incidents in the United States involving at least 24 items of Acoma cultural patrimony that, under Acoma law, were illegally removed from our lands and offered for sale by auction houses, art galleries, and on Internet sites.  This theft of our tribal patrimony is very damaging to our culture and offensive to our values. The federal government can do more to stop this illicit trade and we are grateful for Congressman Pearce’s leadership in this area.”

The illicit theft, trade, and sale of Native American ancestral remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and cultural patrimony is an ongoing human rights issue that Indigenous Peoples are addressing in national and international forums throughout the world. Indigenous International Repatriation was included in Articles 11 and 12 of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Operative Paragraph 27 of the Outcome Document of the World Conference on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly. The San Carlos Apache Tribe, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Hopi Tribe, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Hui Malama (Native Hawaiian), Pascua Yaqui Tribe, United Tribes of Michigan, the Association on American Indian Affairs, and IITC have also submitted recommendations to the U.N. Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on international repatriation to its cultural heritage study.

“It is not only a religious and cultural rights issue, but a human rights issue,” states Honor Keeler (Cherokee Nation), Director of the International Repatriation Project. “The free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples has never been obtained in the theft of Indigenous sacred places and burials. The United States and other countries must put an end to the ongoing sale and export of our Ancestors, funerary objects, sacred objects, and cultural patrimony. Dignity and respect must be restored to Indigenous Ancestors, Indigenous Peoples, and Indigenous cultures.”


“Fourteenth Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues” and International Repatriation

by Angelo Baca

Flags from various nation states at the United Nations grounds.

The Fourteenth Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues meets in New York City from April 20th-May 1st, 2015. A number of issues that are of concern to Indigenous Peoples were discussed, not just during the Forum, but also before at the Global Women’s Indigenous Caucus. Among those concerns were international repatriation, issues of clean and accessible water, protection of the environment, and combating violence against Indigenous women.

This year, international repatriation is being addressed among many nations and Indigenous Peoples, as it is beginning to be brought up as a growing issue of concern and appears to be gaining traction. The U.S. State Department made a poignant commitment to help move an international protocol for international repatriation at the United Nations. Deputy Assistant Secretary Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes at the Department of the Interior made the following statement:

The United States is committed to help recover Native American human remains and cultural property that was stolen, looted, trafficked, or otherwise acquired. The Department of State, Department of the Interior, and several tribes are partnering to recover sacred objects and/or objects of cultural patrimony offered for sale at 2013 and 2014 Paris auctions. Mindful that another auction is scheduled for June 2015 in Paris, the United States is developing a systematic approach to apply to future sales in foreign countries. We recommend that countries consider amending any domestic legislation that inhibits the recovery and repatriation of Native American cultural property. We also encourage full documentation of cultural property, which facilitates the items’ recovery and repatriation in cases of illicit removal.”

The Statement suggests that the UN acknowledge federally recognized tribes not as NGOs in future meetings, but as tribal governments, and develop new procedures “which permit the participation of indigenous institutions, communities, and other non-NGO entities.” Due to the work of many organizations and Indigenous peoples partnering together, such as the Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA) and the International Indian Treaty Council, the issue of international repatriation is gaining momentum and may be an issue of interest at the July 2015 meeting in Geneva.

United Nations Flag
The United Nations Flag

The International Repatriation Project, the Hopi Tribe, Hui Malama, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, the International Indian Treaty Council, San Carlos Apache Tribe, and the Sault Ste Marie Tribe submitted a document to the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMPRIP) for their cultural heritage study. In it, each Native nation expressed their personal experiences regarding the egregious difficulties in international repatriation, and suggested the formation of an Expert Working Group on the issue. Native Nations are hopeful there will be movement on this issue, as it follows in a long line of major Resolutions addressing international repatriation, such as the Resolution on International Repatriation passed at the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) in 2012, and at the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) in 2014.