FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – An arrest warrant has been issued for a former Hopi Tribe chairman charged with stealing a bronze bust of his grandfather, one of Indian Country's most famous athletes, from a museum.
A criminal complaint filed in Hopi tribal court says Ben Nuvamsa took the bust of two-time Olympic distance runner Louis Tewanima without permission from a museum on the northeastern Arizona reservation. A warrant was issued for his arrest after he failed to appear in court for an arraignment earlier this month.
Nuvamsa said he never was served with the complaint and was unaware of the scheduled court hearing. Regardless, he said he had permission to pick up the bust in August for display at an annual Labor Day weekend race that honors Tewanima, who won a silver medal in the 1912 Olympics in the 10,000 meters.
"If anything, it belongs to the people," said Nuvamsa, who lives in Pinetop. "Every year we celebrate his accomplishments, and people need to see it."
Tewanima, who died in 1969, is a source of inspiration for Hopi runners.
The history of the bust is unclear. The criminal complaint says it belongs to a museum near the village of Shungopavi. But Nuvamsa contends the sculpture valued at $8,000 should be in the hands of Tewanima's family.
The museum manager, Anna Silas, on Wednesday declined to comment on the bust and its reported theft.
Nuvamsa said Silas was not at the museum when he arrived to pick up the bust on behalf of the Labor Day race organizers, who had displayed it in the past. But he said her brother led him to the sculpture and helped him load it into his truck. Nuvamsa said he then dropped off the bust with other relatives of Tewanima.
The bust was recovered from a property on the Hopi reservation and now is in a police evidence room, said U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs police Lt. Gibson Namoki. He declined to comment further, citing the unresolved court case.
Nuvamsa was sworn in as chairman in March 2007 following a special election. His time in office was marked by political chaos and ended in his resignation and that of the vice chairman less than two years later.