Press Releases

Washington, D.C. ­– U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today cosponsored the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act (STOP Act), legislation introduced by Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) that would prohibit the exportation of sacred Native American artifacts and increase penalties for stealing and illegally trafficking tribal cultural patrimony. This legislation was cosponsored by a bipartisan group of senators including Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Tom Udall (D-NM), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Steve Daines (R-MT), Jon Tester (D-MT) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

“Many of the cultural artifacts that this bill would protect have a special, sacred connection to Native American people, as well as their history and heritage,” said Senator McCain. “I have worked for many years to help protect these objects and keep them within the Native American community. Congress must impose stiffer penalties to stop these sacred items from being lost forever.”

Specifically, the STOP Act would:

  • Increase penalties for Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) criminal violations to more closely match the National Stolen Property Act and other similar statutes. 
  • Explicitly prohibit the export of items obtained in violation of NAGPRA and related statutes. The French government has cited the lack of an explicit export prohibition as an impediment to enforcement of NAGPRA and related laws overseas. 
  • Establish a policy for the United States of encouraging the voluntary return of tangible cultural heritage to tribal communities. The bill directs the secretaries of Interior, Homeland Security, and the State Department, as well as the Attorney General, to appoint liaisons to facilitate the voluntary return of cultural property and directs the secretary of the Interior to develop and maintain a list of contacts for the return of cultural property to which individuals and organizations can be referred.
  • Establish a tribal working group to develop recommendations on the return of cultural heritage, the elimination of illegal commerce in cultural heritage, and repatriation of cultural heritage that has been illegally trafficked. 

Year after year, hundreds of traditional tribal objects are transported primarily to European auction houses or advertised on the internet, where they are placed up for grabs to the highest bidder. In 2015, Senator McCain sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch signed by the full Arizona Congressional delegation asking for assistance to stop an auction of sacred objects at the Paris auction house Estimations Ventes aux Encheres (“EVE”). In 2009, Senator McCain authored amendments to the Indian Arts and Crafts Act to expand law enforcement activities to crack down on the sale of misrepresented Indian crafts by non-Native Americans.

This legislation has also been endorsed by tribes across Indian Country, including the Hopi Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Pueblos of Acoma, Santa Ana, Isleta, Zuni, Laguna, Nambé, Jemez, and Ohkay Owingeh as well as the All Pueblo Council of Governors, the National Congress of American Indians, and the United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund.

This legislation was first introduced in 2016.

The legislation is here.