Legality of Collecting NAtive Artifacts

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Legality of Collecting NAtive Artifacts
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All Native art, & artifact pieces, are hot collectibles today. You have perhaps seen many arrowhead collectors, and people who own Native pots, tools, & the like are growing in numbers every day as anything Native has become a decorating trend, not to mention a financial investment. Prices of some Indian artifacts commonly run above $5,000, while some of the rarest objects sell easily for half-a-million dollars & up!

But, what is okay & what is NOT okay to buy, sell, or own if you are NOT Native? Could you be breaking the law by possession of these objects?

One can no longer just walk onto federally or state held lands, pick up artifacts & take them home. Federal Laws passed in 1906, 1966, 1979, and 1992 forbid the taking of Native American artifacts from ANY & ALL federal land. This includes national forests, parks and Bureau of Land Management land, unless you apply for & are granted a permit to do so. Over the past several years, states have also passed their own laws restricting the taking of Native American artifacts from state lands. There are also laws that deal with pre-Columbian art and taking Native artifacts out of other countries. These laws were enacted to stop the illegal excavation and sale of Native American objects from mounds & burial sites. Under these laws, those who dig up artifacts from federal or state lands can be fined hundreds of thousands of dollars and can also be sent to prison.

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) is a Federal law passed in 1990. NAGPRA provides a process for museums and Federal agencies to return certain Native American cultural items (human remains, funeral objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural ritual, etc) to the rightful descendants, culturally affiliated Indian tribes, Native Hawaiian/ Aleut organizations,& other federally recognized entities amongst the Native Tribes. This Law also forbids ANY non-Native ownership of the types of Native artifacts listed above. The online database for NAGPRA may be found below so you can search for items yourself:  
If someone knowingly or unknowingly buys these illegally-obtained Native objects, federal or state officials have the right to seize them without any financial compensation to buyers.

You can check with a local museum that has a Native American collection, or with reputable dealers, experts, and appraisers before you buy. ALWAYS make sure to get a letter of certification that states where an object came from and when it was found. If you buy a piece WITHOUT documentation, especially if the seller refuses to give such documentation, then you may assume it was obtained ILLEGALLY, & that you may be subject to prosecution & fine if discovered with such an item. Buying Native objects without authentication & documentation is the same as buying a car or a house without a title. Buy ONLY from reputable dealers who don't have anything to hide.

Some of the most sought after items are the beautiful Native burial pots, other funeral items, & burial textiles. Such trends in collecting these objects have also made it very lucrative for grave robbers & looters to do whatever is necessary to obtain these highly prized items. Looters know that Natives buried the better pieces with their dead & that those found in graves are the best preserved. Buyers can be on the lookout for sure signs that an item was illegally obtained. A funeral/grave pot will have what is called a "kill hole" which is made in a pot when it is buried. The hole releases the spirit from the pot. The existence of such a hole in a pot indicates that it was buried with an individual. DO NOT BUY SUCH A POT! Also, ANYTHING that a seller says came from a grave is definitely NOT legal to buy or sell! <p>
Legalities aside, ask yourself: Would YOU want someone to rob your relative's grave, remove something from his/her body, & then sell it to the highest bidder?

Arrowhead collecting, or finding chards of pottery, etc, while walking over newly plowed privately-owned ground is one thing, but knowingly buying or selling unlawfully obtained artifacts is another.

Today there are plenty of beautiful Native American materials on the market, such as clothing, other textiles, reproductions of ancient artifacts,or pottery made by contemporary Native American craftsmen. Again, make sure you are buying from a reputable source. Something made by an actual member of a recognized Tribe will be authenticated with that members Tribal Roll number & name, making it simple to call that Tribe for verification that the seller is indeed a Tribal Member. It may slow down your obtaining a sought-after article, but please, call the Tribe & check out the seller's claim.

 If you see someone removing artifacts from mounds, burial sites, or Federal or State lands, or if you know of anyone dealing in Native artifacts obtained by ilegal means, please contact your local State Troopers, a land management agency, or other local law enforcement. Also, please notify the Tribes if you discover a seller who is NOT a Tribal member but claims to be selling "authentic American Indian" anything. Don't participate in the theft of Native history & culture!
The Nations will appreciate it.

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