THE NEWS OF ART
On Feb. 17, the New Mexico Senate unanimously approved a memorial to seek enhanced protection of Native cultural properties and stricter enforcement of violators. The state House of Representatives unanimously OK’d House Joint Memorial 1 earlier in February.
HJM 1 orders that the state attorney general and the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) work with tribal and community leaders to review the New Mexico Cultural Properties Act and applicable federal laws “to make recommendations for enhanced protection of cultural items, take steps to prevent the theft, wrongful sale, or alienation of cultural items and cultural properties, and discourage such acts by way of the creation and enforcement of treaties, laws, and joint powers agreements.”
“Today the New Mexico legislature took a very important step in addressing a serious and pervasive problem — the illegal theft and sale of cultural objects, sacred to the tribes,” Pueblo of Acoma tribal secretary Jonathan Sims said in a Feb. 18 statement. Acoma took the initiative on the measure, which was co-sponsored by Indian Affairs Committee members Sen. Carlos Cisneros (D) of Questa and Rep. Jim Smith (R) of Sandia Park. At issue, Sims said, are items removed from tribal lands and sold to collectors, including on eBay and at European auction houses.
Ann Rogers, the tribe’ s attorney, told the Senate that New Mexico laws should be bolstered on the model of the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).
The memorial’s 10 clauses say that “the unauthorized appropriation of cultural property is a violation of state law” and that“the theft, wrongful sale, or alienation of cultural property is damaging to all cultures and communities in New Mexico.”
The measure recalls that NAGPRA deals with t he “treatment, repatriation, and disposition of Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony” — the latter are those items having “ongoing historical, traditional, or cultural importance central to the Native American group or culture itself, rather than property owned by an individual Native American, and which, therefore, cannot be alienated, appropriated, or conveyed by any individual.”
HJM I also emphasizes that the theft, wrongful sale, or alienation of such objects “is not only illegal, it is also deeply offensive because it strikes at the heart of what it means to be tribal people and at the core of cultural belief systems in ways that impact what is significant and sacred.”
A fiscal impact report generated in conjunction with the memorial determined that no such impacts would apply with passage of the measure. The report did mention a query from DCA regarding the possible inclusion of“the issue of mis representation of contemporary non-Native American-made products as Native American-made,” since the Cultural Properties Act applies only to objects of cultural patrimony, burials, public lands, and public agencies. — Paul Weideman
A Native American protester in Paris holds a sign reading “We are not for sale” at a December 2014 auction of Navajo tribal masks; AP photo Francois Mori