NAGPRA complaint against UMass

Gale Courey Toensing for Indian Country Today reports on a NAGPRA complaint against the University of Masachusetts:

A complaint against the University of Massachusetts Amherst, claiming violations of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act is under investigation and will be heard at a Review Committee meeting in the fall.


The complaint was filed jointly by Tribal Historic Preservation Officers Cheryl Andrews-Maltais of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, Aquinnah; John Brown III of the Narragansett Indian Tribe; and Sherry White of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians in May 2008. Andrews-Maltais has since been elected chairwoman of her tribe. . . .


The complaint says that UMass Amherst has violated NAGPRA by failing to respond to the tribes’ request for repatriation of human remains from the Connecticut River Valley that are in its possession, and failing to consult with the tribes.


The joint complaint also says the university failed to publish a complete inventory of the human remains and other items of cultural patrimony in its possession, and claims the remains from the Connecticut River Valley listed in its partial inventory are “culturally unaffiliated” even while admitting that the three tribes had a historical presence in and historical ties to the area, and that they are the only federally recognized tribes with standing to claim the remains.

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Another Suicide in the Wake of the Federal Looting Investigation

Steven Shrader, one of the 24 individuals indicted for dealing in looted antiquities killed himself Thursday night. This comes after the suicide of another man in connection with the case. The sad news should increase the criticism by two Utah senators who have asked for a Congressional investigation into the tactics used by Federal Authorities.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports:


News of a second death in the antiquities crackdown surprised southeastern Utahns . . . . “That’s tragic — if it’s the result of his concerns over his case,” said Phil Mueller, a Blanding resident and Redd family friend. “I don’t know — I don’t know [Shrader]. But to hear the news is certainly very tragic.” Mueller added that he doesn’t accept federal authorities’ explanation that they needed a show of force in the raid because they believed most of the suspects could be armed. “You could walk up to any house in San Juan County,” he said, “and they’d probably have a gun.”of a second death in the antiquities crackdown surprised southeastern Utahns, although those contacted said they had not heard of Shrader.

These suicides are certainly tragic, and though some blame may be placed on the tactics used by federal agents, the simple truth is when you violate federal law, you are running the risk of arrest and prosecution. Digging up Native American remains is not an innocent activity one accidentally does it seems to me. And as more of the search-warrant affidavits are made public, there is more and more allegations of clear wrongdoing on the part of the indicted individuals. Patty Henetz for the SLT summarizes the recent affidavit released by federal court:
On a brisk morning last September, three men — including a federal undercover operative — carried shovels and rakes to an ancient Puebloan mound on public land in San Juan County. As they piled dirt onto a blue plastic tarp, out popped a skull.

The discovery, recorded in real time and detailed in recently released federal court papers, didn’t seem to slow the men much.

Richard Bourret picked up the skull and put it back in the hole, the documents say, then he, Vern Crites and the operative, whom federal authorities call the “Source,” folded the tarp and funneled the dirt back into the hole. There wasn’t quite enough to cover the damage.

Crites lamented a lost opportunity, saying he “wished that fella had still been intact, the skeleton, I mean.”

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Backlash over Federal Arrests in the Southwest

https://i1.wp.com/www.delsjourney.com/images/news/news_02-07-01/2-3855_Butler_Wash.jpg?resize=420%2C280Brendan Borrell has an interesting piece for Scientific American following up on the number of arrests which focused on the theft of Native American objects from the four corners region, which has been described as a massive outdoor museum.  Pictured here are the Butler Wash ruins near Blanding. 

Two Utah senators, Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett have both called on Congress to investigate the actions of the federal agents surrounding the arrests, which led to one apparent suicide, the raid of one home for 10 hours, involving 300 agents and a SWAT team. 

One of those arrested, Brent Bullock tells Scientific American, “I’m guilty of arrowhead collecting, as is two-thirds of this town.”  It seems he:

[T]ried to sell a blanket fragment, fireboard, and stone hoe known as a Tchamahia. In a phone interview, he said that, like Lacy, he was also asked to identify the spot where the items were obtained and he subsequently signed a Letter of Provenance.  He says agents later showed up at his house, placed his arrowheads and other artifacts in bags, and photographed them although they did not have permission to seize his or any other artifacts yet. “They ripped this place apart,” he says. “This town is all stirred up.”

Criminal penalties may help to ease the taking of objects from these sites, but they also create a great deal of anger and resentment.  I think rather than just focusing on the arrests and the backlash, we should also pay attention to much of the education and outreach being conducted.  Were all of these individuals really hardened criminals, bent on destroying archaeological heritage to sell antiquities?  I’m sure some may have been, but the investigation seems to be failing spectacularly at convincing at least some local residents the importance of heritage preservation.  What will happen when the attention of federal authorities goes elsewhere?  Criminal penalties are important, and certainly justified in many cases.  But I would like the attention being paid to this controversy to focus on some practical initiatives that can do a lot of good before looting and destruction take place.  Take a few examples such as:  volunteer programs, initiatives such as the Comb Ridge project, and continued recruitment of site stewards
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

24 Indicted for Looting in the 4 Corners

A staggering 24 indictments are being announced as we speak for looting Native American sites in the Southwest. From the Salt Lake Tribune:

An ongoing federal investigation of archaeological-site looting in the West has moved into Utah, where federal authorities are expected to visit later today to announce a slew of criminal charges.


Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Bureau of Indian Affairs boss Larry EchoHawk, U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman and officials from the FBI and Justice Department plan an afternoon news conference in Salt Lake City to detail the charges netted after a two-year undercover probe in southeastern Utah.


The charges stem from the theft of cultural and historical artifacts from American Indian lands and federal tracts in the Four Corners area, according to the Interior Department.
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Looting of Native American Sites in South Dakota

Josh Verges of the ArgusLeader had a good detailed story about the indictment of three men in South Dakota for trafficking in Native American artifacts:

The federal indictments of three men accused of trafficking in Native American artifacts reveal a lucrative trade centered on the illegal harvesting of a culture’s buried history.

U.S. Attorney Marty Jackley said the indictments – the first of their kind in his two and a half years on the job – are partly a response to his conversations with tribal members.”When I travel to Cheyenne River and Standing Rock … this is very important to their culture and their tradition,” he said.

Jackley said the investigation continues with the possibility of more indictments, and those already filed involve a “significant number of artifacts.”

Brian Ekrem, 28, of Selby and Richard Geffre, 49, of Pierre allegedly sold three copper arm bands in violation of the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act and were involved in the collection of many other artifacts, including beads, arrowheads and bone tools.  Scott Matteson, 60, of Fort Pierre is accused of buying red stone discs, arrowheads and a sandstone scraping tool, all of which had been removed from public and Indian lands.

Each man pleaded not guilty earlier this month in Pierre and was released without bond until his next court appearance. In each case, court records do not specify how the items were obtained or to which tribe they probably belonged.  Matteson said last week that he bought the items from an artifacts dealer and he did not know their origins. He said that transaction of less than $300 has resulted in what he hopes is only a temporary loss of his artifact museum.

He said federal agents recently confiscated his 38-foot trailer filled with Native American arrowheads, pots and other relics, which he has collected during the past 50 years.

Verges and the two other men were most likely looting sites and burial grounds.  Policing these violations is difficult given the vast geographical area federal agents and prosecutors are tasked with safeguarding.  That’s why its particularly disturbing that President Bush has decided to pardon David Lane Woolsey (via) of St. George Utah, who violated the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. 

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Two Indicted for Looted Native American Artifacts

A local TV station in Sacramento has a brief account of two men who have been indicted for looting Native American sites in Nevada, Donald and Steven Parker. If they are ultimately convicted they will face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The story indicates this was part of a five-year investigation, leading me to the conclusion that this may have been related to the massive searches of California museums earlier this year.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Does Energy Trump Heritage in the Four Corners

Kirk Johnson of the New York Times has an excellent article about a disheartening subject: the threat energy projects pose to Native American heritage in the West. Its a familiar story: not enough funding for surveys and archaeological research, pressures from development and expanding populations, plus the problem of illegal looting.

Above is a picture from the piece, of Chimney Rock Archaeological Area. Federal land managers are forced to make difficult judgment calls, considering using portions of funds for energy development to help safeguard and protect sites.

As the piece notes, “A spokesman for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, which represents drilling companies, described helping defend historical sites as good for business, especially if financing volunteers created more contact and understanding between local residents and energy explorers.”

That seems like a big lump to swallow and a dangerous compromise of heritage values. I’m highly skeptical of this kind of give and take, though perhaps some with more understanding of specific cases might offer some kind of hope for this kind of compromise. Consider that “[t]he Forest Service, for example, using research at Chimney Rock that suggests the place was chosen by the Anasazi at least partly for its vantage point of the San Juan Mountains and river valley below, recently decided that a big natural gas drilling project just a mile or so away must not be visible from the rock.” Wow, one would have thought that would have been a no-brainer.

Also at risk is the 2,000 year-old rock art in Nine Mile Canyon (previously discussed here); in Montana, a coal-fired power plant has been proposed near “one of the last wild sections of the Lewis and Clark trail”; and in New Mexico a uranium mine has been proposed on a national forest site sacred to Native American tribes.

It’s a disheartening story, which indicates I think how much more effort and advocacy is needed. Strict criminal penalties are in place for looting of sites, and there are even nimble civil fines which can quickly punish looters. But heritage policy does not start and stop with looting, it also requires funding, and good policy solutions. Sadly many of those appear to be lacking in the American West, despite some notable heroic eforts

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com