Pot dealing is legal (sometimes)
Amid the festivities of Indian Market, the publication of the Aug. 20 Pasatiempo strikes a somber tone with the story of the trials and tribulations of those engaged with American Indian art. It is the story of archaeologists, historians, Pueblo elders, road builders, artists, photographers, collectors, law enforcement, museum curators, and (sadly) looters, all coping with the changing rules imposed by federal laws and differing values regarding artifacts.
The multi-article story presents a narrative view of a complex topic uncovering the secrets of the legendary Santa Fe pueblo and re-creating the search for the Seven Cities of Gold. There are side “excursions,” however. One article presents barely repentant, confessed pot digger Craig Childs — “I’ve dug in the trenches and removed objects … and if I hadn’t written this book [ Finders Keepers: A Tale of Archaeological Plunder
and Obsession] and done the research, I might still be in those trenches. … I never want to feel like that looter again.” There is no real mention of his violating the law.
Frank Clifford’s article mentions the large number of ATADA (the Antique Tribal Art Dealers Association) members in Santa Fe. ATADA is a professional organization with strict ethical standards requiring its members to abide by the law. Illegal pot hunting is forbidden by our bylaws; nor do members traffic in human remains. (Remember that the vast numbers of human remains now in federally funded museums are mostly the result of 19th century work conducted by scientists — not dealers and collectors.) ATADA fully supports repatriation, with the voluntary repatriation of the Zuni War Gods by an ATADA member proof of where we stand on this issue. Putting our name into the middle of a discussion of the nefarious practices of illegal pot hunters without explanation smacks of guilt by association.
Every case is fact-specific and all are different. The article’s example of the purchase of a bull roarer deserves more comment. A bull roarer made by a White Mountain Apache for use in ceremony is well known to be a ceremonial object, illegal to buy or sell. A similar bull roarer made by a Navajo and sold at a flea market is not a ceremonial object. It is the circumstances surrounding the object, not the object itself, that determines whether it is ceremonial and therefore legal or illegal to own under ARPA [the Archaeological Resources Protection Act] or NAGPRA [the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act]. Thus a pot collected by an illegal pot hunter is illegal to own, buy, or sell while a nearly identical pot collected on private land with the permission of the landowner is fully legal under federal law. Likewise, objects collected by permitted expeditions are fully legal to own. We fully support the rights of private individuals to own objects procured in these or similar circumstances. Proper provenance and documentation are helpful in such cases, and ATADA is working to improve the standards of documentation in the marketplace.
Collectors and dealers are facing the same concerns as other professionals featured in this issue of Pasatiempo. Our members and clients are all struggling with how to deal with old collections under the new laws. We wish to assure your readers that no ATADA member is involved in illegal pot hunting and that all artifacts sold by ATADA members have been legally collected and are fully legal to buy, sell, hold, or donate under federal law today.
Arch Thiessen President, Antique Tribal Art Dealers Association Santa Fe
The New Mexican’s Weekly Magazine of Arts, Entertainment & Culture
August 20 - 26, 2010