Feather Astor

Paralegal IV

U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of New Mexico

Albuquerque, NM

New Mexico is a culturally rich and diverse state. The Acoma ceremonial shield case affected the Pueblo of Acoma community that I live near. I worked on this case over several years and made a positive impact on the Pueblo of Acoma community when I helped bring property of cultural significance back home.

In December 2019 after years of effort by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of New Mexico, where I work as a paralegal, the Pueblo of Acoma took possession of a sacred item from an overseas auction house. It’s one of very few successful repatriation attempts by tribes to get sacred items returned from foreign sellers intent on profiting from Native cultural patrimony.

The Acoma shield was missing for decades before it showed up in 2015 at the EVE Auction House in Paris, an establishment notorious for selling off hundreds of Native items, some of which are sacred. Since then, the pueblo, along with the U.S. Department of Justice and political leaders, worked to get it back. (Photo: EVE Auction House)

In July 2016, I processed the initial civil forfeiture complaint and began reviewing reports. I found it interesting that the case began because a member of Acoma sought assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office after seeing the shield on the auction website. Later in the case I drafted joint status reports, settlement agreements and dismissal pleadings. I kept the Assistant U.S. Attorneys on track with the deadlines and finally filed the disposal of property form.

I was asked once at work about the significance of a shield, probably because I’m a Native American of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe and Red Clan of the San Carols’ Apache tribe. Native Americans take their ceremonial traditions seriously. I explained sometimes tribes give the public general information that items are for ceremonial purposes. Often, only males of a tribe may be allowed to participate or have certain duties in ceremonies, while female tribal members may have limited participation in ceremonies. The details of this item may only be known by members of Acoma Pueblo.

I was honored to be able to assist with any part of returning the shield. It felt like I helped my fellow Native Brothers and Sisters in a small way.