Former museum aide sentenced for stealing Indigenous artefacts, including a grizzly bear necklace


A man who worked at the Museum of the Plains Indian on the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning, Montana, was sentenced on 6 April for stealing a variety of Indigenous artefacts from the museum’s collection, including a grizzly bear necklace and golden eagle feathers.

According to the Flathead Beacon, Preston Jay Spotted Eagle took a plea deal that resulted in a sentence of five years of probation, 250 hours of community service and $16,860 in restitution on charges of government property theft—the museum operates under the auspices of the US Department of the Interior and the Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB). Spotted Eagle pleaded guilty in October 2022 to thefts that occurred between May and August 2021, while he was working on site as a museum aide.

A curator initially noticed that a bear claw necklace containing 11 large claws was missing from its display, prompting an investigation by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Security footage revealed that Spotted Eagle had taken the necklace, although he initially claimed he had removed it because it was broken. Further inventories showed that moccasins, 26 eagle feathers plucked from a sacred war bonnet and several more bear claw artefacts had also been removed from their displays and drawers. The former aide took photos on his phone of the objects; he also donned a historic Crazy Dog Society shirt that was too small, damaging it in the process. Spotted Eagle also posted images of golden eagle feathers to social media, despite never having applied for or received golden eagle parts from the National Eagle Repository.

“Mr. Spotted Eagle not only stole from the museum, but also from the people of the Northern Plains Tribes”, Edward J. Grace, assistant director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s law enforcement office, said in a statement. “He also wore and damaged culturally significant items that are irreplaceable in spirit and value and his actions have robbed current and future generations of seeing these items intact and enjoying their significance.”

An appraisal determined that the grizzly bear necklace was worth $3,200, the feathers amounted to $7,800. While the war bonnet doesn’t have any legal US market value, sales of similar items abroad fetched upwards of $18,000.

“The IACB shares the outrage expressed by Blackfeet community members regarding the mishandling, destruction and theft from the Museum of the Plains Indian of culturally significant and sacred Blackfeet collections by Mr. Spotted Eagle—someone entrusted with their care and protection as a then-museum employee,” IACB director Meridith Stanton said in a statement


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here