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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The federal appointee in charge of Indian affairs says tribes should have first priority for reclaiming artifacts being seized by the government in a sweeping prosecution of theft and trafficking of items taken from tribal and federal lands across the Southwest.
Larry Echo Hawk, a law professor on leave from Utah's Brigham Young University, praised his former student -- U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman -- for taking a tough stance on looting after decades of government indifference.
The number of defendants in the case has grown to 26 in Utah, New Mexico and Colorado. More indictments are expected out of Arizona.
Echo Hawk acknowledged repatriating artifacts under federal laws will be arduous. It isn't always clear which modern tribe can claim ownership of an ancient object.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)