After missing for decades, Acoma Pueblo’s shield returns to New Mexico

A Native American shield that was stolen decades ago is finally returning to the Pueblo of Acoma, just west of Albuquerque.

The centuries-old Acoma Shield was stolen and had been missing since the 1970s. But four years ago, it resurfaced at the Eve auction house in Paris, France.

“The United States filed a forfeiture action in the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico,” said John Anderson, the U.S. attorney for the District of New Mexico. “After extensive efforts from a number of parties, we’ve finally succeeded and (are) having the shield returned from France to the United States.”

The pueblo found out the shield was up for auction in 2015 after someone saw it in an auction catalog.

“These types of patrimony artifacts are so powerful,” said Gov. Brian Vallo, of the Pueblo of Acoma. “We refer to them, we acknowledge them in prayer and ceremony, ’cause they were created to serve a purpose in our cultural way of life.”

Vallo said that, at one point, the pueblo was told it could buy it the shield and had someone offer to buy it for them, but that’s a violation of traditional Acoma law.

“This is the first time in this country’s history that an item so significant is being returned to an indigenous nation without the exchange of one dollar,” Vallo said.

The leaders of the pueblo said they are determined to keep this shield and other traditions alive for future generations of Acoma people.

“I thank our cultural leaders at Acoma, our war chiefs, for their guidance and prayers, and for reminding us that, when we’re sincere in prayer, these blessings do come,” Vallo said.

FBI officials said that no one is facing criminal charges for the missing shield. Jerold Collings, the Albuquerque man who sent the shield to the auction, said he had inherited it. Collings cooperated with authorities to help return the shield to the pueblo.

FBI officials said anyone who possesses stolen artwork or cultural artifacts will be prosecuted. If you happen to know of any item that’s been stolen, call the agency.

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