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Old 11-28-2006, 11:28 AM   #1
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Morongo Tribe Announces Intent To Prosecute Cultural Thefts; No Pocketing Of The Past

Morongo Indian Reservation -- In a move to protect its cultural artifacts, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians announced today that a recent theft has prompted the tribal government to adopt a more aggressive policy on the prosecution of such thefts.

According to reports by the tribe’s reservation patrol, someone in May or June entered a part of the Morongo reservation normally located behind two locked gates and stole a large granite boulder – somewhere between 500-800 pounds --with a bedrock mortar or Indian “grinding hole” in it. The culprit(s) used heavy equipment such as a skiploader, backhoe or bobcat to forcibly remove this artifact. Another large boulder with a bedrock mortar was also moved about 80 feet in an apparent attempt to steal it as well.

“Morongo will no longer take a passive approach to thefts like these,” said Morongo tribal chairman Robert Martin. “We have notified federal authorities who are working with the reservation patrol on this case. The tribe will pursue prosecution and the tribe is also issuing a $5,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the theft.”

Groups like the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (NATHPO) and the Antique Tribal Art Dealers Association ATADA as well as many museums have reported that the theft of tribal archeological and cultural objects is on the rise.

According to California Indian Legal Services (CILS), “Tribes are employing a variety of methods to secure protection of religious and cultural sites, turning to legal action, the media, and legislation to protect their interests. In addition, tribes are working with federal and state land management agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM); developing consultation agreements with federal and state agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Energy, and Cal-Trans, and monitoring and treatment agreements with local cities, utilities, and private developers; participating in consultations through the National Historic Preservation Act; and pursuing partnerships with federal and state law enforcement agencies to ensure prosecution for violations of the Archeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) and other federal and state historic preservation laws.”

Morongo cultural historian Ernest Siva explained that “…the bedrock mortar boulder is part of a site that belongs to every member of our tribe and not to any one individual. Artifacts like these were left by our ancestors and they belong back in their original resting place for us, our children and our grandchildren to enjoy. The person(s) who stole the rock may have taken it for profit or for personal use. It doesn’t matter. The removal means this artifact is lost forever to the tribe.”

Theft of cultural items from an Indian reservation is a federal crime under the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (ARPA) and subject to significant fines and jail time. The minimum penalty does not exceed $10,000 and one year in jail or both and the maximum penalty is $100,000 and 5 years in jail or both.

Congress passed ARPA in 1979 because it found that archaeological resources on Indian lands were increasingly accessible and endangered because of their commercial attractiveness. Many Indian reservations were struggling to provide adequate protection to prevent the loss and destruction of archaeological resources and sites resulting from uncontrolled excavations and pillage.

As federal investigators continue to work on this case and collect evidence, the Morongo tribe is sending out a plea for the return of the boulder to the tribe by calling (951) 755-5206.

“We hope that whoever took the boulder will avoid prosecution and do the right thing by returning it to tribe,” said Martin. “ In this way, we can protect our heritage and make every effort to keep our history safe.”
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