[JURIST] US authorities on Wednesday charged 24 individuals [press release] with looting Native American artifacts from public land. The accused are charged [indictment materials] with violations of the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (ARPA) [text, PDF] and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) [text] in connection with the theft of 256 artifacts worth $335,685. The ARPA prohibits the excavation and exchange of archaeological resources from federal lands, and NAGPRA mandates the repatriation of certain objects to the tribes. The defendants are additionally charged with theft and depredation of government property and theft of Indian tribal property. The alleged thefts took place in the "four corners" region of Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico and include pottery, burial and ceremonial masks, and other artifacts. The two-year investigation leading up to the arrests was the largest US investigation of archaeological and cultural artifact thefts. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar [official profile] addressed the thefts at a news conference:
Let this case serve notice to anyone who is considering breaking these laws and trampling our nation's cultural heritage that the BLM, the Department of Justice, and the federal government will track you down and bring you to justice. As these alleged criminals are prosecuted and as federal agents continue to hunt down wrong doers, BLM cultural resources staff will work to ensure the proper recovery, identification, repatriation, and storage of the artifacts that have been confiscated.Deputy Attorney General David Ogden [official profile] discussed the Justice Department's role:
These archaeological treasures are precious and protecting them preserves a rich history and heritage. That is why the Justice Department will use all of its tools to vigorously enforce the laws designed to safeguard the cultural heritage of Native Americans. Recommitting resources and focus to criminal justice in Indian Country is of paramount importance to the Justice Department.Those charged include excavators, dealers and collectors.
The federal government continues to grapple with many Native American legal issues, in addition to the repatriation of artifacts. Last year, a federal judge awarded Native American plaintiffs [JURIST report] $455 million in a class action suit concerning the US government's alleged mismanagement of trust funds. Also last year, the US Senate Indian Affairs Committee [official website] held hearings on a bill designed to give Native American authorities a broader authority to combat violent and sex-related crimes.