The Indian Trader issue of this month reports a story about Indian trader Bill Malone, who was abused and deprived of property under false pretenses by the National Park Service. According to a book about Malone by Paul D. Berkowitz, "The Case of the Indian Trader", After his investigation into the case, Berkowitz was able to get the case against Malone dropped and the government was forced to return his property - after several years and significant damage to Malone's reputation.
Such over zealousness now shows up in cases the Federal Government brings against dealers and collectors of Native American artifacts. This subject is covered in ongoing commentary by the Antique Tribal Art Dealers Association. Despite the law exempting material that was collected before 1979 and material collected from private land, the Feds routinely raid and seize privately held and museum collections, based on flimsy allegations.
The recent case in Utah was based on the testimony of a disgruntled trader, who allegedly was paid by the government to entrap fellow traders. Based on that "evidence", collectors premises were raided with entire collections confiscated for supposed lack of provenance. The case is till working its way through appeals and trials, without incidentally any further testimony from the government informant, who committed suicide.
What contributes to this attitude about lawful trading in Native artifacts, including those contributed to museums and made available for research and viewing by the public? There may be an answer in a recent talk given to collectors in Santa Fe, when a federal agent said he wished the legal trade would dry up. Theoretically, it would make his job easier, which is an interesting standard on which to base policy decisions that affect lawful activities.
We have seen, however, what happens when lawful activities are prohibited. In the case of alcoholic beverages, a perceived problem was not solved, but was worsened by the fostering of crime gangs that still operate in other areas.
Good intentions don't matter when bad ends result.