A worker at the Museum of the Plains Indian on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana was sentenced for stealing a cache of cultural artifacts from the institution as part of a plea deal.
Per a report in Montana Right Now, Preston Jay Spotted Eagle has received five years-probation and 250 hours of community service, and has been ordered to pay nearly $17,000 in restitution. According to court documents, Spotted Eagle, who worked as an aide at the museum, went on a four-month plundering spree between May and August of 2021 during which he stole a necklace made of grizzly bear claws, a pair of beaded moccasins, and 26 golden eagle feathers from a war bonnet.
“Perhaps Spotted Eagle’s most egregious conduct was to rifle through sacred medicine bundles, not only causing physical damage, but also desecrating them,” U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich said in a press release.
After Spotted Eagle was suspected of trying to steal the bear claw necklace from the museum, employees conducted an inventory to see what else, if anything, he had attempted to filch. Court documents state that surveillance footage showed Spotted Eagle trying on various pieces of “historic clothing,” comparing pairs of moccasins to his feet for size, and photographing artifacts with his mobile phone.
Spotted Eagle pleaded guilty to theft of government property in October 2022 (the art and artifacts in the Museum of the Plains Indian on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation are managed by the federal government, not the reservation). None of the stolen artifacts have been recovered, according to Manhattan Right Now.
This is only the latest instance of petty crime at cultural institutions. Earlier this week, a man pleaded guilty to stealing the thumb from a 2,000-year-old terra cotta statue during a holiday party at Philadelphia’s Franklin Museum. The man originally faced a possible 30-year prison sentence for stealing cultural artifacts. He pled down to interstate trafficking, which comes with a possible two-year sentence and a $20,000 fine.