As several bloggers have recently noted, it appears that the investigation into looted antiquities that resulted in the arrests in Blanding, Utah in June extends well beyond Blanding. While the Blanding cases have gotten the most attention, it’s important to note that not all of the people indicted in June were Blanding residents. One, listed in the court papers as a resident of Durango, Colorado, but apparently actually a resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico, was one Steven Shrader, who seems to have been largely unknown in Blanding but who seems to have been at the core of another ring of dealers in illicit antiquities centered on Santa Fe. Shrader was the one who introduced the undercover operative known as “the Source” to four dealers in Santa Fe whose houses were later searched by authorities. Those searches resulted in the confiscation of a wide variety of goods.
Shrader committed suicide soon after being charged. Interestingly, his home was not among those searched. The charges against him seem to have revolved more around the trafficking than the possession of illegal antiquities. The dealers whose houses were searched include one Tommy Cavaliere, who is described as being “of American Indian descent” and as having used his connections to procure items from various pueblos. It would be very interesting to know which tribe(s) Cavaliere is associated with, as there is something a bit off about the way his role has been reported. An article in the Salt Lake Tribune describes him as having gone into the pueblos and bought items from tribal members, but it later says that many of those items are “not items a tribal member would have been permitted to sell.”
So how did Cavaliere get this stuff? Did he buy it from tribal members who were violating the law themselves? Did he steal it, using his connections to gain access to the pueblos then taking things without the knowledge of the residents? Or what? Again, knowing who Cavaliere is and what his exact relationship was to the pueblos would be helpful here. It’s interesting that the specific pueblos mentioned (Taos, Zia, Acoma, Santo Domingo, and Hopi) are all open to the public, although not unrestrictedly.
Another interesting aspect of these Santa Fe cases is that the stuff involved seems to be of a rather different nature from the artifacts in Blanding. Probably because of Cavaliere’s involvement, the items are not all particularly old, and many seem to have perhaps been of recent manufacture and contemporary use. This isn’t that surprising, since the Santa Fe area is known more for contemporary Indian art than for artifacts, but it suggests that the laws at play in the investigation are different. The dealers interviewed by the reporters who have written about the Santa Fe cases seem to think that this is related to NAGPRA and a new interpretation of it by the Obama administration, which is trying to expand the reach of the law to private collections as well as federally funded museums. NAGPRA is involved in the Blanding cases as well, of course, but there the Archaeological Resources Protection Act is of at least equal importance. In Santa Fe, the crimes seem to be not so much about pothunting as about a network of illegal dealings in tribal paraphernalia acquired through various sources.
The Santa Fe investigations, then, seem to be looking at something rather different from the direct looting involved in the Blanding cases. The connection between the two is Shrader, who was apparently involved in both circles, presumably through his connections in both Durango and Santa Fe. This sheds some light on why he might have taken his own life when the hammer came down. Unfortunately, since he is gone, any information he might have given on the nature of these networks is gone as well.