Browning Man admits stealing artifacts from Blackfeet museum

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On Oct. 3, a Browning man admitted to stealing culturally significant artifacts, including a grizzly bear necklace, moccasins and golden eagle feathers, from the Plains Indian Museum last year on the Indian reservation. of the Blackfoot, according to U.S. attorney Jesse Lasovich.

Preston Jay Spotted Eagle, 31, pleaded guilty to theft of government property before U.S. District Chief Judge Mr Morris. He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a fine of $250,000 and at least five years of probation to life.

According to court documents, the thefts took place between May and August 2021 at the Museum of the Plains Indian, which is operated by the Indian Arts and Crafts Board and the US Department of the Interior. Spotted Eagle worked at the museum as an aide and the curator noticed a bear claw necklace was missing from the displays in August 2021.

When the curator confronted Spotted Eagle about the missing bear claw, he told him he didn’t know what happened to him.

During a US Fish and Wildlife Service investigation, Spotted Eagle was identified as the thief after security footage linked him to the crime. When confronted with the necklace again, Spotted Eagle said he thought he removed it from display because it had fallen off and he told the curator no one else needed to see it again. the video and that he “could guarantee that the necklace was still in the museum”, records State.

That afternoon, Spotted Eagle said she found the necklace under papers in the collection room and when the curator asked her to show him the necklace the next day, she said it was badly damaged.

After the incident, the museum conducted an inventory to identify other missing items and officials found four bear claws taken from a drawer in the collection room, a pair of moccasins and 26 golden eagle feathers. of a war bonnet. An investigation determined that Spotted Bear had removed the artifacts, photographed them with his cell phone, and was wearing historic clothing, some of which was very old and delicate. He also searched through many sacred bundles, according to documents.

An assessment of damage to the grizzly bear’s collar resulted in a $1,200 loss in value. The market value of the loafers and four claws together was $1,150 and the replacement value was $2,150. The eagle feathers do not have a fair market value because the trade is illegal, but the value of the missing eagle feathers could be $7,800 based on a forfeiture bond schedule. War bonnet damage was not calculated for the same reason as eagle feathers.

Government officials said it was impossible to put a monetary amount on the items, which are unique and culturally significant to the Blackfeet tribe.

Spotted Eagle’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for February 8, 2023. He was released pending further proceedings.

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