Judge OKs return of Native American shield
Albuquerque, N.M. — A federal judge on Wednesday approved a prosecutor’s request for U.S. officials to try to recover a Native American ceremonial shield that tribal officials say turned up for sale at a Paris auction house in May after it was stolen in the 1970s from a New Mexico pueblo.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Martha Vazquez approving the warrant that federal officials requested for the shield came a month after the U.S. attorney’s office in New Mexico asked for it.
Federal officials had no immediate comment on how they would try to use the judge’s order in their effort to obtain the shield and bring it back to the United States. Court documents filed in New Mexico do not say where the shield has been stored since its auction was canceled.
The judge’s decision marks the latest development in a push for the shield’s return involving top federal officials, U.S. lawmakers and tribes.
Tribal officials, especially in the U.S. Southwest, have protested for years the sale of items they consider sacred that vanished from reservations and appeared years later in foreign auction house catalogues.
Tribal leaders say the multicolored, circular shield with leather straps was stolen during a 1970s home break-in at Acoma Pueblo, where a centuries-old village sits atop a mesa. A federal investigation supports the claim, authorities have said, making the shield subject to federal civil forfeiture laws.
EVE removed the shield for sale on the day it was supposed to go before bidders, saying only that the sale was being put off pending further examination.
The auction house has not responded to requests for comment since then, though its director said before the sale that all items being auctioned could be sold legally in the U.S. and France.
The shield was one of seven taken from Acoma Pueblo, authorities said in their forfeiture claim filed in July. One was recovered last year in Bozeman, Montana, by Bureau of Indian Affairs agents executing a search warrant.
Like the shield in Paris, the shield found in Montana featured a painted image depicting what a tribal cultural preservation officer has described as the face of a kachina — a deified ancestral spirit in Pueblo culture.