Update on the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act (STOP Act) and the Terrorism Art Antiquity Revenue Prevention Act

Update on the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act (STOP Act) and the Terrorism Art Antiquity Revenue Prevention Act

There are two bills currently before the Senate that are serous cause for concern for collectors, museums, and dealers in Native American and international ethnographic art. 

ATADA has already alerted its membership to the potential consequences of the STOP Act, S.3127/H.5854 which is currently before both House and Senate. 

The STOP Act amends NAGPRA to specifically prohibit the export of Native American and Hawaiian objects deemed tribal patrimony. The definition of tribal cultural patrimony under NAGPRA is an object has present religious and ceremonial significance to a tribe today.  

The STOP Act also makes it unlawful for any person to knowingly export from the United States any Native American “cultural items” obtained in violation of four existing U.S. statutes: NAGPRA, 18 USC § 1170, ARPA, and18 USC § 1866(b). A “cultural item” as defined in the ARPA is virtually any material remains of past human life or activities over 100 years old. To oversimplify a bit, the difference between an item that is lawful to collect and trade under ARPA and one that is illegal to trade is whether it was found or collected on private land, in which case it is generally deemed lawfully acquired, or found or collected on federal or Indian land in violation of law, including the 1906 Antiquities Act, when it not lawful to collect or trade.

The STOP Act also raises the penalty for a violation of any of the above existing laws from 5 years to 10 years. And finally, the bill adds a provision granting immunity from prosecution to anyone who “repatriates” an unlawfully obtained cultural object to the “appropriate” Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization within two years of the STOP Act’s implementation.

The STOP Act has no system for clearing artifacts that can be sold. The STOP Act does not identify the objects each tribe considers sacred or community owned. There are over 500 federally-recognized tribes. It is impossible for citizens to know what is deemed a cultural object by each tribe.

Proponents of the STOP Act have suggested that citizens can “ask the tribe” to determine if an item should be returned or can be sold. However, the law provides no permitting system, no staff or funding, no criteria, no standards of evidence, and no means of mediation or appeal.

The STOP Act’s 2-year “amnesty” window for the return of “unlawful” tribal cultural property by private collectors without prosecution implies that possession of all cultural objects is unlawful. The STOP Act is likely to cause unwarranted returns of thousands of lawfully owned and traded objects to tribes which do not want them. Collectors may be pressured to give up objects simply out of an abundance of caution. Alternatively, lack of clear criteria or means of compliance may result in virtually no returns at all.

ATADA has submitted testimony to both the House and Senate subcommittees on the STOP Act and is engaging directly with tribal governments to find better solutions to tribal concerns. Additional information on the STOP Act and contact information for legislators is linked below.

S. 3449, the Terrorism Art Antiquity Revenue Prevention Act of 2016

A second bill before the Senate, the Terrorism Art Antiquity Revenue Prevention Act of 2016, S.3449, poses a serious threat to US art collectors, museums and dealers in foreign ethnographic, antique, and ancient art. S. 3449 could overturn 40 years of US case law and make possession as well as trade in art from virtually any foreign country illegal under US law. 

Despite its name, the proposed law does nothing whatsoever to block terrorist funding. First, import of Syrian and Iraqi artifacts was already completely blocked by the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act, signed into law by President Obama on May 9, 2016, as Public Law No:114-151. Second, there has been no evidence of any sales of Syrian or Iraqi art in the US that has supported ISIS or other terrorist activities.

The new proposed law, S. 3449, is a stealth attempt to end the international ethnographic and ancient art trade. It’s not the first and won’t be the last! The sponsor of the bill, Senator Kirk of Illinois, failed in his reelection bid, and no similar bill has been introduced in the House. It is therefore unlikely that there will be an attempt to pass the bill during the 2016 lame duck session. Nonetheless, ATADA is following the bill closely, and we anticipate that similar legislation will be introduced in the coming Congress in 2017.

What S. 3449 does:

  1. Section 2 amends the National Stolen Property Act (NSPA) to create special provisions for “cultural property.” “Cultural property” is broadly defined to include virtually all art and antiques, using the definition of cultural property in the 1970 UNESCO Convention. This includes antiquities more than one hundred years old. such as inscriptions, coins and engraved seals; objects of ethnological interest; pictures, paintings and drawings produced entirely by hand on any support and in any material (excluding industrial designs and manufactured articles decorated by hand); original works of sculpture in any material; original engravings, prints and lithographs; original assemblages and montages; rare manuscripts, old books, documents and publications of special interest (historical, artistic, scientific, literary, etc.); postage, revenue and similar stamps, singly or in collections; articles of furniture more than one hundred years old and old musical instruments.
  2. The threshold value to trigger criminal liability NSPA is reduced from $5,000 to $50. 
  3. Cultural property that has been removed or excavated in violation of local law will be considered to be stolen. Stolen property would include any object removed or excavated from a foreign country in violation of a foreign local law.
  4. Section 3(a) requires any person who seeks to import, sell or gift any Syrian or Iraqi cultural property in the US to provide to the Secretary of Homeland Security
  5. information, with supporting documentation, on the provenance of the property that includes, at a minimum, when and where the property was obtained, and such other information as the Secretary of Commerce and the Secretary of Homeland Security consider appropriate.
  6. Section 3(b) sets up a working group to develop regulations to require dealers of cultural property to document and report information on transactions in cultural property of Iraq or Syria, and where objects were acquired; to work with participants in international art and cultural property markets to develop a Federal Government database with information on cultural property and warnings about buyers, sellers, appraisers and others with a history of conducting illegal trade in cultural property, and consider providing participants in international art and cultural property markets with access to the database.

ATADA President John Molloy, has written to the heads of the Senate Finance Committee, where the proposed bill is under consideration, urging the committee to take additional testimony before moving forward with this hastily introduced and extremely damaging bill. Other museum, collecting, and trade organizations have done likewise. ATADA and other organizations must work together to be sure this ill-considered bill and others like it do not continue to be introduced into the Senate and House.

Testimony regarding STOP Act S.3147

On October 24, ATADA submitted written testimony on the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act of 2016 (STOP Act), S.3127/H. 5854. 

The full text of the testimony is available in .pdf form to download at the following link: 

On October 18, 2016, the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held an Oversight Field Hearing on "The Theft, Illegal Possession, Sale, Transfer and Export of Tribal Cultural Items"

The following testimonies from that hearing are also available for download: 

Honor Keeler
Director, International Repatriation Project Association on American Indian Affairs

Governor Kurt Riley
Pueblo of Acoma

Governor Myron Armijo
Pueblo of Santa Ana

Legislative Alert - ATADA's Position Regarding the STOP Act

ATADA’s position regarding the
“Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act (STOP Act)”


ATADA asks its members and supporters to write letters and/or send emails or faxes about the proposed bills, S. 3127, and H. 5854, the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act (STOP Act) to their own senators and representatives and to members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

ATADA is committed to working with all tribes regarding patrimonial objects. We are currently discussing the law and working to build bridges between tribal communities, tribal artists, art dealers and collectors. However, ATADA has identified many serious issues with S. 3127.

  • The STOP Act is unnecessary because export for sale of unlawfully acquired artifacts is already illegal under ARPA and NAGPRA.
  • The STOP Act does not identify the objects each tribe considers sacred or community owned. 
  • The STOP Act creates no administrative body or standards for determination of what is claimed.
  • The STOP Act will damage businesses, cost jobs, and reduce tax revenue.
  • While voluntary donation of important sacred objects should be encouraged, tribal legal claims for restitution of unlawfully possessed objects belong in the courts, not in wholesale restitutions.
  • The STOP Act will result in consumer confusion and harm Native artisans and legitimate businesses because of the assumption that all Indian artifacts are tainted by illegality.
  • The STOP Act needs additional consultation with tribes and with other impacted US stakeholders, including collectors, dealers, academics, and museums.

A complete summary of these issues can be found in our Summary of Issues - STOP Act.

Use the buttons below to download complete copies of Senate Bill 3127 and House Bill 5854, which is identical to the Senate bill. 

Contact Your Legislators

Use this list to find your local Representative: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

Use this list to find your Senators: http://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/

We have compiled a list of Senators and Representatives on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairsand the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.

Tips for writing a great letter to a legislator:

  • State that your letter is about Senate Bill 3127 / House Bill 5854, the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP Act).
  • Say who you are. Anonymous letters go nowhere. Include your correct name, address, phone number and email address. Otherwise, you will not get attention or a response.
  • State any professional credentials or personal experience you may have, and how long you have been involved in the Native American art field.
  • Keep your letter short — one page is best.
  • Use specific examples to support your position.
  • State what it is you want done – don’t pass the STOP Act, or fix the STOP Act so it does not damage important American values and harm US collectors, art dealers, Native artists, and museums. Express your own feelings about the STOP Act.
  • Thank the member for taking the time to read your letter. NEVER be rude or aggressive.

Please note: This linked list of Senators and Representatives on the Senate and House Indian Affairs Committees has the webpages for sending emails as well. These email links almost always require you to be a resident of the state or district of the senator or representative. However, you can send a letter via mail to any senator or representative. It shows that you (and probably many others who do not bother to write) really care!

Sample Letter

Here is a sample letter to a US Senator. Please make your letter your own by personalizing it and including the issues that are most important to you. You can add from the issues mentioned above or outlined in the above referenced Summary of Issues - Stop Act.
An editable copy of the letter (MS Word format) is available for download by clicking the button.

••• Sample Text •••

The Honorable _______________ 

(Room #) (Name) Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator:

My name is ________. I live in _________. I am interested in Native American art because _________.

I am deeply concerned that Senate Bill 3127 / House Bill 5854, the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP Act) will harm ________ (For example, collectors, art dealers, Native artists, museums, or educational institutions) and the public interest.

I believe that the STOP Act is not necessary; US laws already prohibit illegal trafficking in Native American artifacts. The STOP Act does not identify the objects each tribe considers sacred or community owned. There are hundreds of thousands of items of Native art that have circulated in the market for decades. It is impossible for owners of objects collected over many years to know what is deemed a cultural object by each tribe, or to know which tribe might claim an object. The law does not create any system for determining if an artifact is safe to sell. Yet the penalties for selling an object claimed as cultural property are very high!

The STOP Act will require a huge bureaucracy to identify this volume of material, almost all of which came from ordinary trade. The STOP Act will damage businesses, cost jobs, and reduce tax revenue, especially in the Southwest, where art and tourism are important to municipalities and to Native artisans. The STOP Act is unworkable, impractical and ill-considered.

Thank you for your attention to my letter.


(Your Name, Address, and Telephone)

Sponsoring Senators

Below is a list of sponsoring Senators (four of these also serve on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee).

Senator Martin Heinrich, New Mexico
303 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
(202) 224-5521

Senator Tom Udall, New Mexico
531 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
(202) 224-6621

Senator Jeff Flake, Arizona
413 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
(202) 224-4521

Senator John McCain, Arizona
218 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
(202) 224-2235

Senator Jon Tester, Montana
311 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
(202) 224-2644

Senator Lisa Murkowski, Alaska
709 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
(202) 224-6665

Senator Steve Daines, Montana
320 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
(202) 224-2651