It’s still an ocean away from home, but a colorful leather shield used in tribal religious ceremonies is an important step closer to Acoma Pueblo.
It took intense lobbying by pueblo officials, a New Mexico congressman and a U.S. Cabinet secretary to get the EVE auction house in Paris to pull the shield from its recent sale of religious items and art pieces from the Americas, Africa and Asia.
Considering the Acoma family that cared for the shield maintains it was stolen decades ago from their home during a break-in, and France’s adherence to the 1970 Convention on the Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Property, pulling the shield was the right thing to do. It is all the more important because until the auction house took that step, it maintained that Acoma should buy back its items in the name of “efficiency and discretion.”
Acoma hewed to the principles of justice, refusing to fuel the “black market” in stolen cultural items that prompts thievery in the first place.
While the shield is safe for now from collectors who would deny the tribe an important piece of its religious and cultural heritage, as tribe attorney Ann Berkley Rodgers says, “for Acoma, it is not going to be a victory until the shield is returned.”
According to the French Embassy in Washington, “the French authorities have referred this matter to the Central Office for the Fight Against Trafficking of Cultural Property, and we are awaiting the results of their investigation.”
Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., who supported the tribe’s efforts, has introduced a resolution in Congress seeking “explicit restrictions on the export of cultural tribal items.”
Moving forward, the French should heed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s request for help identifying the American who sold the artifact to the auction house “so that justice may be served.”
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.