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Ceremonial shield to be returned to Acoma

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

A sacred ceremonial shield will be returned to the Pueblo of Acoma following a settlement agreement filed Friday afternoon in U.S. District Court.

The settlement orders the EVE Auction House in Paris, France, to release the shield into U.S. custody at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, where a federal law enforcement agent will take custody of the sacred object and transport it to the Bureau of Indian Affairs evidence room in Albuquerque.

“The Pueblo of Acoma has waited years for the return of the Shield after successfully halting its sale at auction,” Acoma Pueblo Gov. Brian D. Vallo said Friday in a statement. “The Shield is integral to the cultural sustainability of the Acoma people and is a significant item of our cultural patrimony.”

Vallo said its homecoming “is critical and highly sensitive.”

“With absolutely no intent to diminish the great effort of achieving this momentous return, we ask the public for privacy as the Pueblo prepares to welcome the Shield home,” he added.

Vallo thanked the Justice Department, U.S. attorneys and the Bureau of Indian Affairs for helping secure its return.

U.S. Attorney John C. Anderson, who is the federal government’s top prosecutor in New Mexico, said, “The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Bureau of Indian Affairs are actively working to secure the return of this sacred ceremonial shield to the Pueblo of Acoma.

“Today’s settlement agreement is an important step in the process. We will provide further information as we continue towards the repatriation of this precious item of cultural patrimony to its rightful home.”

The FBI learned in May 2016 that the Paris auction house planned to sell the ceremonial shield later that month. The original U.S. District Court complaint filed in July 2016 argued that the shield should be returned to the pueblo, because it had been stolen in violation of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.

Tribal leaders had showed the auction house’s shield pictures to C.S., an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Acoma. “C.S. identified the photographs as depicting the exact shield her grandfather had used in cultural and religious ceremonies for the Pueblo,” the original complaint reads.

Her grandfather, B.P.S., was the shield caretaker as the traditional kiva leader with the Pueblo. C.S. told FBI and BIA agents that the shield, which was more than 100 years old, had been stolen from her home in the 1970s.

Members of the Pueblo of Acoma Historic Preservation Advisory also looked at the pictures and concluded that the shield was an authentic Acoma ceremonial item that had been “removed without authorization.”

The EVE auction house has long been accused of knowingly selling cultural items that were stolen from various tribes in the American Southwest.

Jerold Collings of Mule Creek provided the shield to the auction house. He said he had inherited it from his mother after her death in 1984. Collings worked with the Pueblo to authorize the auction house to return the shield.

In December 2018, another ceremonial shield was returned to the Acoma Pueblo after the Bureau of Indian Affairs recovered it from a Montana art gallery.