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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