Thousands Of Native Artifacts Stolen - 8 News NOW

Brian Allen, Reporter

Thousands Of Native Artifacts Stolen

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Pahrump Paiute Chairman Richard Arnold Pahrump Paiute Chairman Richard Arnold

(Dec. 16) -- Federal prosecutors say it's the largest case of artifact theft in American history, involving 11,00 pieces -- many of them stolen from Nevada. Native Americans say what's happened to them goes well beyond criminal activity.

The two-year federal investigation was one for the books. Margaret Stanish prosecuted the case for the U.S. Attorney's office. "It's the largest criminal case of its kind as far as the number of artifacts looted." 11,000 Native American artifacts were stolen from 13 sites in California and Nevada between 1997 and 2001. In some cases the thieves targeted archeological digs, in other cases they did the digging.

"The looting has been going on for a number of years." Gloria Hernandez is chairwoman of the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, one of the thieves' targets. She says when artifacts are stolen it corrupts the tribe's history and religion.

"There has to be a great deal of respect for those things and without that respect basically you have upheaval." Pahrump Paiute chairman Richard Arnold compares this case to someone stealing your family album then burning your bible. His land was targeted too. Whether it's thousands of items or someone pocketing an arrowhead, he says it's all theft. And it insults a tribal religious belief that all things that come from the Earth should return to the Earth. "We see it all the time. We see things that are missing. We see things people want to desecrate irreplaceable; petroglyphs rock art sites they like to paint on shoot up whatever it's terrible."

"It's a high potential. That's now been really lost." Archeologist Roger Kelly says returning these 11,000 artifacts to their original locations is almost out of the question. It's displaced history with an unknown future. "This is not heritage for their taking its heritage for the entire country."

Five people have been convicted in this case, identified as Bobby Wilkie of Oklahoma City and four Nevadans: Deanne Wilkie of Carson City, Frank Embrey of Henderson, David Peeler of Las Vegas and Kevin Peterson of Overton. All five face prison time and may have to pay restitution to the federal government as well as the tribes affected.

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