Tester Sponsors Bill to Protect and Preserve Tribal Cultural Objects

Senator’s STOP Act Will Prohibit the Export of Native American Sacred Items

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester is sponsoring legislation to protect and preserve items of cultural and historic significance to Native Americans.

Tester’s Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP) Act will prohibit the export and sale of sacred Native American items and increase penalties for stealing and illegally trafficking tribal cultural property.

“We have a responsibility to safeguard the artifacts of native cultures and traditions so our kids and grandkids can better understand their rich histories,” said Tester, a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. “Stopping the sale of these cultural objects will ensure that tribes can continue to preserve and pass down sacred items, and this bill will hold those accountable who try and profit on items that were illegally removed from tribes.”

Specifically, the STOP Act will:

  • Increase the maximum penalty from five to 10 years for Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) criminal violations. 
  • Explicitly prohibit the export of items obtained in violation of NAGPRA, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, or the Antiquities Act. European countries have specifically cited the lack of an export prohibition as an impediment to enforcing NAGPRA and related laws overseas. 
  • Establish a period of time for individuals to voluntarily return all of their illegally possessed cultural objects to the appropriate tribes without fear of prosecution. 
  • Direct the Secretaries of Interior, Homeland Security, and State, as well as the Attorney General to facilitate a voluntarily return policy for individuals who possess tribal cultural properties. 

The STOP Act is a continuation of Tester’s efforts to highlight the rich culture and history of tribal communities in Indian Country. Last year, Tester’s bill to require all federal agencies who promote tourism to include Native American Tribes in their tourism recruitment efforts was signed into law.