Plains Museum India robbery suspect pleads guilty

BROWNING, Mont. – On October 3, an employee of the Museum of the Plains Indian on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning, Mont. pleaded guilty to stealing Native American artifacts from the museum, according to the U.S. District Attorney’s Office of Montana.

The museum is operated by the Indian Arts and Crafts Board of the United States Department of the Interior. As a result, the crime is being investigated as “theft of government property” and the employee, Preston Jay Spotted Eagle, 31, faces a maximum of ten years in prison and a fine of 250,000 $.

The theft was originally discovered in August 2021, when a museum curator noticed a grizzly bear claw necklace was missing from the exhibit that Spotted Eagle had recently been assigned to inventory. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was assigned to investigate, and “a review of the security system video ultimately led to the Spotted Eagle,” according to the Justice Department. The necklace, upon its return, was significantly damaged, a museum employee noted in the report.

Further investigation and a renewed inventory of the museum identified other missing items, including bear claws, moccasins, a war bonnet and 26 golden eagle feathers.

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“Investigation further determined that Spotted Eagle had removed artifacts, photographed them with his cell phone and tried them on. [a] historic garment, some of which was very old and delicate,” the Justice Department wrote. “Spotted Eagle also delved into many sacred bundles.”

The government’s assessment of the damaged and lost items is over $11,000.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office is continuing the case, with sentencing set for February 8, 2023. Spotted Eagle has been released pending further proceedings.

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