A bill that would prohibit the sale of cultural and sacred objects went before the House State Administration committee Friday.

House Bill 637 is not a simple bill, said Rep. Tyson Runningwolf, D-Browning, who is a member of the Blackfeet tribe.

“I think of it as very complex,” he said. “When we’re mixing human remains and burial protection with cultural patrimony and sacred objects that Native Americans and other groups feel still have life and spirit.”

The bill offers penalties and definitions, defining cultural patrimony as an object that has been passed on and has “ongoing historical, traditional, or cultural importance central to an Indian tribe, group, or culture itself.”

The law also gives Montana’s Burial Preservation Board extra duties and highlights the state and its citizens’ obligation to protect these items, Runningwolf said.

Runningwolf said he sometimes works to track down sacred objects to return them to individuals and tribes in Montana and Canada. He recalled a time recently when he was able to bring some reclaimed items to a high school that was dealing with suicide and historical trauma, he said. Having the sacred objects helped students with the healing process, he said.

When Runningwolf talks to collectors, he said he asks, “How about you give me that bundle and let me take it home?”

About 85 percent of the time, they’ll give it to him for free, he said.

There are state and federal laws that require public institutions to return objects to indigenous tribes and individuals, said Ken Lokensgard, assistant director at the Center for Native American Research and Collaboration at Washington State University. There’s nothing in place that protects the items in private collections, though.

Other states have adopted laws similar to HB 637, Runningwolf said, and by Montana passing the bill, it would remove the incentive to resell sacred objects.

The committee did not vote on the bill Friday.

Abby Lynes can be reached at alynes@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2651. Follow her on Twitter @Abby_Lynes.

Abby Lynes covers business and the economy for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

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