Bethel police are searching for suspects after about $11,000 worth of Alaska Native traditional artifacts were stolen from the Yukon-Kuskokwin Health Corporation.

Just after 9 a.m. Wednesday, the Bethel Police Department responded to a report of stolen property at YKHC. When officers arrived, Linda Weisweaver, director of risk management, told them that multiple pieces of Native artwork throughout the building were missing. The artwork was located in locked display cabinets, Weisweaver said.

During the weekend of Jan. 31, the building was broken into, according to a release from YKHC. Approximately a dozen artifacts were stolen from cases on all three floors of the building.

The items were stolen in a way “to make the theft appear inconspicuous and unsuspecting,” the release says, adding that staff didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary until Monday.

“Included were several walrus ivory carvings, a traditional mask, a variety of grass baskets, and an ivory carved traditional story knife, among others,” the release says.

Historical Alaska Native artifacts and artwork have been held in the CHSB building for more than 15 years. Though this is the first incident of vandalism where artwork has been stolen, YKHC says break-ins have occurred at other secured buildings in the past months. Furthermore, the cause into the blaze at YKHC’s new alcohol treatment facility in October is still a mystery.

In response to the most recent incident, YKHC is doubling its security detail and “encouraging staff to be more vigilant about suspicious activities,” the release says.

The artwork stolen may be valued in the thousands of dollars, but its true value is immeasurable, says YKHC president and CEO Dan Winkelman.

“These pieces have been with us for a long time. They are part of our rich cultural heritage, and were made by artists and members of our Alaska Native community,” said Winkleman. “These stolen items still belong to the community and our region and should be returned. We feel absolutely violated in hearing about the theft and we hope for the items safe return.”

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of the artwork is asked to call Bethel police at 543-3781. YKHC is offering a $1,000 reward for any tips or suspect information or for the safe return of all the stolen items.

Click here for detailed photos and descriptions of the stolen artwork.

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