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Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations
08/03/2017

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Tribal leaders, HSI partnering to help prevent plundering of Indian artifacts

Law enforcement seeks public’s help to identify potential looting on tribal and public lands
Tribal leaders, HSI partnering to help prevent plundering of Indian artifacts

EL CAJON, Calif. – Representatives from the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), along with tribal leaders and members of other federal and state law enforcement agencies, participated in a first-ever cultural heritage symposium Thursday aimed at bolstering joint efforts to combat the looting of artifacts from tribal lands. 

The day-long event, hosted by the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation in close collaboration with special agents from HSI’s San Diego office, began with a traditional tribal opening ceremony led by Cody J. Martinez, chairman of the Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Nation. Symposium organizers believe the session is a crucial step toward developing longstanding partnerships that will serve to broaden protections for cultural artifacts on tribal and public lands in San Diego and Imperial counties.

“Our ancestors have left their footprints and heritage resources from the ocean to the mountains and as far east as the Colorado River and north and south of the international border,” Chairman Martinez said. “Archaeological sites, landscapes, view-sheds, and objects are tangible links from our past to our current population. They are not to be removed, sold and vandalized for the pleasure of a few. The symposium today is the beginning of a broad cooperative effort with the Kumeyaay Nation and law enforcement to preserve and protect our cultural heritage.”

As part of his opening remarks at the symposium, San Diego HSI Special Agent in Charge Dave Shaw presented an ancient utilitarian pot from the Dehesa Valley to the Sycuan Band. The vessel had been unlawfully removed from protected land and recovered from an Alpine resident, who voluntarily returned it to HSI special agents in May. According to three experts, the utilitarian pot was most likely used for cooking.    

“By partnering with the various federal, state and local law enforcement partners, tribal leaders and community members, HSI is confident that this symposium will provide the necessary tools and resources to protect valuable cultural artifacts on tribal lands,” HSI Special Agent in Charge Shaw said. “HSI is committed to diligently investigating the suspected illegal importation and exportation of these respected items.”

Other presenters at the event included tribal police and state and federal law enforcement who focused on the investigative authorities and resources available for combating suspected criminal activity tied to stolen cultural property. State and federal prosecutors discussed the various laws intended to protect cultural artifacts on tribal and public lands.

Additionally, participants heard from archeological experts with San Diego’s Museum of Man and the San Diego Archaeological Center who underscored the critical importance of protecting tribal artifacts as they are a vital part of the Kumeyaay Nation cultural heritage. There were also remarks by representatives from the Kumeyaay Cultural Repatriation Committee, the Kumeyaay Diegueno Land Conservancy, the Kumeyaay Heritage Preservation Committee, and Kumeyaay Community College.

The symposium’s presenters noted the public stands to play a significant role in the collective effort to prevent looting from tribal lands and public lands. Authorities encourage anyone who encounters individuals seeking to sell artifacts they believe have been illicitly removed from local tribal and public lands to alert law enforcement using the web links and/or contact numbers shown below. Tipsters wishing to remain anonymous may do so.

"The Sheriff's Department is proud to join with state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies and our tribal partners to reduce the sale and destruction of Indian artifacts."

ICE Homeland Security Investigations: The public, government and private institutions often aid HSI in identifying, investigating and prosecuting the illicit movement or trafficking of cultural property.  If you have information about the illicit trade of cultural property or art, call the HSI Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or report tips online.

CalTIP (Californians Turn In Poachers and Polluters) is a confidential secret witness program that encourages the public to provide the California Department of Fish and Wildlife with factual information leading to the arrest of poachers and polluters. CalTIP was introduced in 1981 to give Californians an opportunity to help protect the state’s wildlife resources.  The CalTIP toll-free number operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You do not have to give your name. The reporting hotline is 1-888-334 CalTIP (888.334.2258)

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Last Reviewed/Updated: 08/07/2017