This article advocates for the development of American Indian tribal legislation as a focal point, regardless of jurisdiction limitations to protect cultural property, focusing in particular on the problem presented in this project through the active appropriation of sacred Tewa ceremonies. By drawing a contrast to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, in which the various Pueblo villages coordinated a successful rebellion to expel Spanish missionaries, the article urges Tewa governments and other American Indian tribes to draw on their long history of religious oppression to formulate modern tribal laws to protect against religious and cultural appropriation.
Protection of cultural property is essential for American Indian tribes because cultural knowledge, practices, and ceremonial items are central to tribal identity and religious beliefs. Cultural properties also form the basis for tribal sovereignty as it is recognized by the U.S. government today. These ceremonies are the binding social structures for indigenous communities and kinship that establish the sovereign capacity in which they operate and the authority of indigenous legal claims. The appropriation of these ceremonies directly threatens Tewa survival. It facilitates harmful misuse and misunderstanding of the life-affirming rituals through which the Tewa people ensure their continued existence. It also threatens to erode the cultural and religious distinctions on which the tribal-federal relationship is based. At a representative level, it erases Tewa tribal identity, replacing it with historicized representations of Indians in popular culture.
This thesis focuses on explaining why the organized protection of Native American cultural properties must be a paramount concern for modern tribal governments. My primary audience is modern tribal leaders. Faced with a wide variety of governmental concerns, including economic development, land management, natural resource management, and administration of social welfare programs, tribal leaders today do not always prioritize protection of cultural properties.