US authorities seek warrant for tribal shield in Paris

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) " Federal authorities are seeking a warrant for the return of a tribal shield from a Paris auction house that has come under criticism for selling Native American ceremonial items.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for New Mexico requested the warrant in a federal court filing Monday as part of a civil forfeiture case arguing there's reason to believe the Pueblo of Acoma shield was stolen sometime in the 1970s before eventually being sent to France " where U.S. laws prohibiting the sale of tribal ceremonial items typically hold no weight. The shield was listed for bidding in May before auction organizers pulled it from the sale amid pressure from top U.S. officials advocating for the tribe.

It's unclear whether the French government would allow for the U.S. Marshal Service or another federal agency to seize items under a warrant approved by an American judge.

Through the French courts and by other means, tribes " particularly several in the Southwest, including the Hopi, Navajo and a handful of New Mexico pueblos " have sought the return of ceremonial items that they say vanished from their reservations only to emerge years later in the catalogues of foreign auction houses.

But in most cases, tribes' efforts to have items returned have not been successful.

Several U.S. agencies, including the State and Interior Departments, also have attempted to intervene by framing the Paris auctions and tribes' push to have items returned as a diplomatic issue.

In a statement Tuesday, Acoma Pueblo officials welcomed the most recent move by the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Mexico to seek a warrant for the shield's return, saying they feared the shield was at risk of disappearing if the French government decided not to allow for U.S. authorities to seize it.

"Unfortunately, if that happens, it may be a very long time before the Acoma shield finds its way back to the traditional homelands of the Pueblo," said Aaron Sims, an attorney for the pueblo. "Our hope is that it will be retrieved and become repatriated so we can begin the healing process and have the shield used in its cultural context and for its intended purpose " namely to protect the Pueblo, its people, its traditions, and its lands from harm."

The pueblo planned to file a claim on the shield in federal court in the Justice Department case that seeks the shield's return.

The shield was one of seven taken from Pueblo of Acoma, a centuries-old village atop a mesa southwest of Albuquerque, federal authorities said in a complaint filed last week in federal court. One shield was recovered by Bureau of Indian Affairs agents executing a search warrant at an art gallery in Bozeman, Montana, last year.

Like the shield in Paris, the one recovered in Montana was circular, multi-colored and featured a painted image on the front depicting what a cultural preservation officer describes as the face of a kachina " a deified ancestral spirit in Pueblo culture.

EVE auction house did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment on the U.S. Attorney's Office move to seek a warrant.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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