Soon after it was established, the Antique Tribal Art Dealers Association (ATADA) issued a statement of goals. Among these was the assurance that “the materials and goods utilized or accorded reverence by functioning religious or cultural communities, as part of their system of religious beliefs or practices, should receive appropriate protection from commercial exploitation and market pressures. Tribal leaders, dealers in tribal arts and appropriate government officials should work together to establish norms and procedures for ensuring that protection. Concern for the protection of legitimate, ongoing religious beliefs and practices, however, should not constitute grounds for objection to trade in objects that are no longer of religious significance to any extant culture, whether due to extinction of the religious system or the fact that the object itself has lost whatever religious significance it might once have had. Nor should such concerns interfere with the right of the legitimate owners of ceremonial objects to dispose of those objects as they see fit, as long as no applicable laws are violated.”
All too often, when the questions asked are of an emotional nature, such as those of religious freedom and persecution, lines are arbitrarily drawn and people or organizations are designated “for us” or “against us” , often without accessing the facts or while using an unrealistic set of measurements. It should not be construed that because the Antique Tribal Art Dealers Association wants the language of NAGPRA solidified and definitions made explicit that the organization is “against” NAGPRA per se. We feel that NAGPRA is timely and appropriate but feel that the letter of the law should follow the spirit in which it was written.
ATADA and its members have a history of supporting Native American religious practices and have acted numerous times to protect and encourage these practices. For example, in 1991, Ramona Morris, the past Executive Director of ATADA, and her family returned an Ahayu:da to the Zuni people. This carving, in private collections for decades, was thought to be lost and was no longer being actively sought by Zuni. This was not publicized but the Zuni community and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture – Laboratory of Anthropology in Santa Fe NM, who handled the repatriation, were cognizant that the donation was made voluntarily. The late Richard Dillingham, a well known artist and collector, made a similar donation at that time.
ATADA has also circulated notices of stolen objects for Zuni at their request, as well as for Hopi on our own initiative and for various museums and collectors. This service is offered to any tribe, museum or individual. One of the major points we stress as an organization is that we deal only in objects of clear title. We also discourage our membership from dealing in objects of a sensitive nature. We guarantee the authenticity of our objects and encourage the public to educate themselves in the cultures these objects represent and the roles they played within the cultures. This can only promote better understanding.
To further this understanding, and to promote greater awareness in the Native American community itself, in 1997, ATADA established a scholarship for Native American students of Native American art history. In that year the scholarship was used to send a student to the biennial Native American Art Studies Association conference in Berkeley, CA. This conference is a forum where scholars and students present the results of current research in traditional and contemporary Native American art, often outlining the content of major forthcoming publications.