Tuesday 16 July 2013

Looted Navajo Artefacts Returned to Tribe

More than 400 artefacts that were stolen from Navajo land several years ago were finally returned to the tribe on July 9th. Although this curious "internal repatriation" is normally a long, complicated process in the USA, in this case the person who had taken them (including from one or more graves it is reported) admitted where he took the items from. Authorities were thus able to start returning the items after making contact with the Navajo Nation over a year ago.
The individual responsible for the theft is Donald B. Yellow, who stole a total of 710 artifacts, with 425 of those items being from the Navajo Nation. According to the U.S Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the artifacts were found in central South Dakota when Yellow attempted to sell some of them.[...] The artifacts were taken from Lukachukai, Ariz., said Ronald Maldonado, supervisory archaeologist for the Navajo Nation Historic Preservation Department. Maldonado said Yellow was a technician working for the Indian Health Service in Chinle when he found the items and collected them, some from a gravesite in the Chuskas. When he relocated to the Midwest, he allegedly took all his collection with him. [...] The artifacts include four grinding stones, a hand-grinding stone, a wooden weaving batton, five whole and partial pottery bowls, a bundle of cordage/rope, 381 pottery shards, 20 stone pieces, 11 stone tools and a corn cob. [...] During his trial almost two years ago, Yellow pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor violation of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. He was sentenced on Oct. 11, 2011. The judge ordered that he be fined $618, pay restitution of $4,382, but no jail and no probation.
Of course. Only "injun" stuff after all, eh?

Despite this failure once again to actually apply the penalties in ARPA, an act set to "to secure, for the present and future benefit of the American people, the protection of archaeological resources and sites which are on public lands and Indian lands,"  the people involved put a bright spin on the whole thing. Here's Julie Price, USACE program manager: 
"hopefully we're making an impact on people that are destroying these types of items," said Price. "If feels very good to bring something back to its homeland where it's supposed to be, [....] Everything went smoothly to bring them back to where they were stolen," Price said, adding that it was nice being able to work with a tribe they've never visited before and return the artifacts to their homeland. "It shows that sometimes the bad guys get caught and good things can come out of bad situations," she said. 

 Megan Maier, field archaeologist with the USACE Omaha District:
"The people that are looting and profiting off these artifacts are slowly learning a lesson," Maier said. "If you are going to be profiting off someone else's culture, you're going to get caught."
ARE you? What about if the "someone else's culture" is material imported into the USA to fuel its no-questions-asked antiquities market? One of the most active and voracious in the world? How many of the people profiting off the looting have been caught in the last decade? And how many of those were charged? I'm not going to even bother to ask how many convicted by a US court.

Shondiin Silversmith, ' 400 confiscated artifacts returned to Navajo', Navajo Times, July 11, 2013 -

Vignette: Artefact "Repatriation". The big show

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