An agreement filed Friday in federal court in Albuquerque sets the stage for return of a ceremonial shield to the Pueblo of Acoma from a Paris auction house, signaling the end of a dispute that generated an uproar three years ago when tribal leaders complained the rare and sacred artifact is part of its cultural patrimony.
The settlement’s terms say the EVE auction house, which previously had listed the round shield made of leather, pigments, feathers and cotton among hundreds of Native American items for sale in its catalogs, is to release the object to the U.S. Embassy in Paris for transport back to New Mexico by a federal law enforcement agent.
The document makes no mention of any monetary terms.
Among those who signed the deal were Jerold Collings of Mule Creek, an unincorporated Western New Mexico community, who has said in court documents he inherited the shield from his mother.
Also signing the agreement was Acoma Gov. Brian Vallo, who issued a statement Friday thanking the U.S. government and federal officials for their role in settling the matter, which touched off an international outcry that led to fewer Native American cultural items being listed for bidding at Paris auction houses. It is illegal to sell such items in the U.S., where laws and political sentiment favor repatriation.
“The Pueblo of Acoma is deeply grateful for the assistance of our many allies who have supported us in our efforts to reclaim the Acoma Shield,” Vallo said.
Under traditional Acoma law, it is illegal for any tribal member to sell or remove an item of cultural patrimony.
U.S. Attorney John C. Anderson of Albuquerque said in a statement Friday, “The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Bureau of Indian Affairs are actively working to secure the return of this sacred ceremonial shield to the Pueblo of Acoma. Today’s settlement agreement is an important step in the process. We will provide further information as we continue towards the repatriation of this precious item of cultural patrimony to its rightful home.”
The shield is painted with a round face, half yellow, half black, separated by a green nasal ridge, which the Associated Press said last year was described by a tribal historic preservation officer as the face of a kachina, or ancestral spirit. The report said an affidavit produced by the tribe alleged the shield was removed from a home in the pueblo’s village atop a mesa west of Albuquerque.