Native Americans Speak Out Against Four Corners Artifact Thefts

By: Tim Ciesco Email
By: Tim Ciesco Email

As the investigation into the nation's largest ever theft of archeological objects moves forward, local Native American tribes are speaking out against what the alleged thieves did and and are providing insight into what artifacts mean to their people.

Roland McCook is a member of the Uncompahgre Ute Tribe here in Western Colorado. He says for the Utes and many other tribes across the West, objects like pottery, headdresses, and other traditional art take on special meaning.

"These were hand made specifically for a certain purpose and maybe they were left out there on purpose," said McCook. "Most of them are made so they could survive."

So when he learned that a group of 24 people from Colorado and Utah was stealing artifacts from the Four Corners region and selling them illegally, he says he was deeply offended.

"To acquire those for self purposes in this day and age is just not what those objects were meant to be used for," said McCook. "It's just not right."

According to documents released by the BLM, an undercover operative purchased 256stolen Native American artifacts for more than $335,000 over the course of a year.

"When I heard of that, I thought once more the Indian is being had and taken advantage of, even after they're gone," said McCook.

The alleged thieves have been indicted and search warrants have been executed as federal agents try to locate the stolen items and return them to the tribes or give them to museums.

"I'm glad that some actions are being taken to curtail this kind of activity that's not necessary," said McCook.

But even if the Anasazis and other tribes who live in the Four Corners area get their artifacts back, McCook says so much has already been lost. He says many tribes put power into their artifacts and believe they contain spirits that serve important purposes for the people.

"What do you do after those spirits have been discovered and released back into the atmosphere?" said McCook. "Perhaps they weren't meant to be there."

He just hopes this incident helps people understand how much artifacts mean to Native Americans and teaches them to respect the sacred land they come from.

"These are the lands where the people that lived there laughed and giggled during the good times and cried and prayed during the difficult times," said McCook. "They must have respect for the history of those lands that the people lived on."

A search warrant related to the case was executed in an Orchard Mesa home earlier this month.

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  • by JB Location: Navajo Nation on Jun 19, 2009 at 01:55 PM
    Congrats to the Feds! They did a great job!
  • by Fred Location: Grand Junction on Jun 19, 2009 at 01:44 PM
    "Even if the Anasazis...get their artifacts back..." Umm...The "Anasazi" have been gone for centuries. Their likely descendants are the Pueblo peoples, and these people prefer the term "Ancestral Puebloans." Anasazi derives from the Ute word "ancient enemies." Native Americans have a right to be outraged, but the actual Anasazi aren't going to get anything back. LOL!
  • by Jerry Peltier Location: Kirkland, WA on Jun 19, 2009 at 08:57 AM
    Let us place this into perspective, these artifacts are more times than not, museum quality. Now let us rationalize these arrests, if citizens (the pillars of their community) from a "certain town" were to "break into" a museum and steal artifacts worth millions of dollars and were later found out don't you think that the fed's would DO THEIR JOB and arrest them??? Of course they would and you all know it. But since these THEFTS were from those Indians they weren't really thefts, right? A thief is a thief is a thief and should be prosecuted.
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