Home Arts Ex-museum assistant convicted of stealing Indigenous artifacts including grizzly bear necklace

Ex-museum assistant convicted of stealing Indigenous artifacts including grizzly bear necklace

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A man who worked at Plains Indian Museum on the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning, Montana, was convicted on April 6 of stealing a variety of native artifacts from the museum’s collection, including a grizzly bear collar and golden eagle feathers.

According to flathead beacon, Preston Jay Spotted Eagle reached a plea deal that resulted in a five-year probation, 250 hours of community service and $16,860 restitution for theft of government property – the museum operates under the auspices of the US Department of the Interior and the Indian Arts and Crafts Council (IACB). Spotted Eagle pleaded guilty in October 2022 to robberies that occurred between May and August 2021 while working there as a museum assistant.

A curator first noticed that a bear claw necklace containing 11 large claws was missing from his display, prompting an investigation by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Security footage revealed Spotted Eagle took the collar, although he initially claimed to have removed it because it was broken. Further inventories showed that moccasins, 26 eagle feathers plucked from a sacred war bonnet, and several other bear claw artifacts had also been removed from their display cases and drawers. The former aide took pictures on his phone of the items; he also donned a historic Crazy Dog Society shirt that was too small, damaging him in the process. Spotted Eagle has also posted images of golden eagle feathers on social media, although it has never requested or received golden eagle parts from the National Eagle Repository.

“Mr. Spotted Eagle not only robbed the museum, but also the people of the northern plains tribes,” said Edward J. Grace, deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s office of law enforcement. A declaration. “He also carried and damaged culturally significant objects that are irreplaceable in spirit and value and his actions have deprived current and future generations of seeing these intact objects and enjoying their significance.”

An appraisal determined that the grizzly’s collar was worth $3,200, the feathers were worth $7,800. Although the war bonnet has no legal value in the US market, sales of similar items overseas have reached over $18,000.

“The IACB shares the outrage expressed by members of the Blackfeet community over the mismanagement, destruction and theft from the Museum of the Plains Indians of culturally significant and sacred Blackfeet collections by Mr. Spotted Eagle – a person responsible for their care and protection of their then-museum employee,” IACB Director Meridith Stanton said in a statement.

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