Stolen artifacts returned to tribes in Spokane, Washington

Spokane, Washington (AP) 10-09

More than 1,400 artifacts taken from Native American sites were returned to tribal members at the federal courthouse in Spokane.

The Spokesman-Review reports the items turned over on Sept. 24 – recovered from the collection of Kenneth L. Milette of Newport – included arrowheads, necklaces and part of a jawbone. They were given to members of the Spokane, Colville, Coeur d’Alene and Nez Perce tribes.

Milette was indicted in September 2008 on charges of illegally possessing and selling Native American artifacts and human remains. He pleaded guilty to four counts and was sentenced in January to three years of probation. He was ordered to forfeit the artifacts and to pay $7,000 in restitution and a $10,000 fine.

“It saddens me to think my ancestors may have been lying in somebody’s basement,” said Jim SiJohn, an elder with the Spokane Tribe of Indians. “If we don’t honor our ancestors, we lose our culture and our history.”

Retired U.S. Attorney Tom Hopkins said the investigation began, in part, when he first saw an ad listing items for sale in the Nickel Nik want ads. Milette was interested in selling the items in bulk for large sums of cash to finance his retirement, Hopkins said. He also advertised online on sites such as eBay.

“I don’t know how you could really put a value on something that is sacred,” said Larry Greene, of the Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho.

Native American artifacts and remains are covered by the federal Archeological Resources Protection Act.

Only 14 percent of reported looting incidents on federal lands are solved, and 96 percent of the people caught are charged with misdemeanors, officials said. Four percent are charged with felonies, as was the case for Milette.

“We have to put people in boats on the water to patrol the river” to catch people looking to poach artifacts from tribal lands along the Spokane River, SiJohn said. “But because of funding, we can’t do it 24 hours a day.”

“It is a crime of theft,” said Stanley Speaks, of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. “It is also a crime against the culture as a whole.