Published December 9, 2018
WASHINGTON — The Association on American Indian Affairs and its partners, that include the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians; Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums; Bernstein & Associates; Delaware Tribe of Indians; First Peoples Fund; Gray & Pape Heritage Management; International Indian Treaty Council; Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law; Institute of American Indian Arts; Klahoose First Nation; National Congress of American Indians; Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology; Southwestern Association for Indian Arts; Tonkawa Tribe; United Tribes of Michigan; and the White Earth Nation, are urging and advising buyers and collectors of American Indian art to invest in contemporary American Indian artists whose stories and creations are accessible and created to share – not indigenous burials, and sacred, cultural patrimony.
This advise comes because there is a long history of looting and stealing American Indian burials and important American Indian cultural and patrimony. These items often end up in private collections and ultimately auction houses and institutions all over the world. In many cases possession of these items outside their communities of origin contravene Tribal laws, and in some cases federal and state laws. For instance, federal law provides that certain types of objects are inalienable from their tribal nations as they are held as national or religious patrimony that have an “ongoing historical, traditional, or cultural importance central” to the tribe.
Auctioneers, consignors, and dealers have professional and ethical responsibilities to deal honestly with the public and validate the ownership of any item for sale. Yet, it is currently not standard practice to reach out to potentially affiliated tribal nations to determine whether Native American ancestral remains, burial belongings, and objects of sacred and cultural patrimony are rightfully in the market. For Tribal Nations, these communally nation-held items are not “art” and should not be displayed or sold, but rather are living and breathing entities that are essential to the continuation of diverse American Indian cultures, traditions and religious practices today.
Buyers and collectors interested in Tribal antiquities and artifacts should do their own careful due diligence and consideration as to whether ancestors and burial belongings, and cultural and sacred patrimony are a proper investment. Perceptions on collecting items of tribal cultural heritage are changing quickly, along with laws that seek to protect them.
Finally, and as stated above, buyers and collectors should focus their investment on contemporary American Indian artists whose stories and creations are accessible and created to share.