By Mary Hudetz, The Canadian Press
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A ceremonial Native American shield has been wel-comed back to New Mexico by tribal leaders, in the culmination of a years-long international campaign to reclaim the sacred object that held a place in a cycle of ceremonies until it vanished from a mesa-top indigenous village in the 1970s.
Nearly four years ago, the shield surfaced as an auction item in Paris, prompting tribal leaders to begin making public appeals for it to be pulled from bidding and returned to them.
U.S. and Acoma Pueblo officials announced Monday that an FBI agent delivered the shield from Paris last week following a multiagency effort that involved U.S. senators, diplomats and prosecutors.
A federal judge on Monday dismissed a civil forfeiture case that removes the final hurdle for the shield to be formally returned to Acoma Pueblo.
“Our prayers have been answered,” said Acoma Pueblo Gov. Brian Vallo, appearing alongside federal law enforcement officials. “I am so grateful that we can do this _ that our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren and those not yet born will have the opportunity to continue this way of life and that they will do it with the protection of our sacred shield.’’
The shield _ a colorful, circular piece featuring the face of a Kachina, or ancestral spirit, and dangling feathers _ is among hundreds of Native American items, many of them considered sacred by tribes, to be sent to Paris auction houses by collectors over the years. U.S. laws prohibit the trafficking of certain tribal items domestically, but it doesn’t explicitly ban dealers from exporting them.
A U.S. Government Accountability Office report last year found that sales of Native American cultural items began to decline following a 2016 outcry over plans to sell the Acoma Pueblo shield and other items.