US House of Representatives Passes STOP Act

Dec 03, 2021
Last night, the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 2930, the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act of 2021 (STOP Act). The vote was strongly in support of the Act, 364–57. This represents a major step forward in enacting this badly needed legislation, which would allow the United States to take effective steps to halt overseas auctions of illicitly procured tribal objects of cultural patrimony, and encourage the voluntary return of such items to their rightful owners. 
Currently, the U.S. government and Native American tribes have been disadvantaged in trying to halt sales of illicitly-procured tribal cultural patrimony in overseas auctions because U.S. law does not have a specific prohibition against the export of looted tribal objects or an associated export certification system. The measure creates an explicit prohibition on the export of Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) cultural items and Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) archaeological resources whose trafficking is prohibited domestically under existing federal law. The STOP Act will make it possible for tribes to access other countries’ law enforcement mechanisms to regain their stolen property under an existing international treaty to which the United States is a signatory. The bill will also 
  • Facilitate the legitimate trade in legally acquired materials by establishing an export certification system;
  • Increase penalties for violations of NAGPRA;
  • Allow more coordination within the federal government and between the federal government and tribes to protect tribes’ cultural heritage and facilitate its return; and
  • Establish a federal framework to support voluntary returns of the great many sacred tribal objects of dubious provenance that are held in private collections. 
Tribal organizations and preservation groups—including the SAA—have worked for nearly a decade to pass the STOP Act. During that time, SAA members and supporters weighed in with their elected representatives in three Congresses and have sent thousands of letters and e-mail messages urging the passage of this critical bill. We want to thank the Pueblo of Acoma and its legal team for their tireless leadership of this effort, and Rep. Leger Fernández and Sen. Heinrich for championing the bill in Congress. We also thank all of those who have dedicated their time and attention to this important issue by participating in our advocacy efforts for the STOP Act. We are nearly there—the finish line is in sight. The final step is consideration by the full Senate, and we will be launching a “Take Action” alert on that soon.