Hopi masks displayed at Paris auction house in April, 2013
By Black Powder | Red Power Media
An auction on Monday of sacred masks and objects in France has stirred fresh anger among Native Americans, with representatives of the Navajo people travelling to Paris to try and halt the latest sale.
Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim is in Paris trying to spare tribal ceremonial items from auction.
Several masks believed to have been used in Navajo wintertime healing ceremonies that last nine days are scheduled to go up for auction. Jim, who also is a medicine man, traveled with other Navajo officials to determine the origin of the masks, tribal spokesman Deswood Tome said Friday.
The items that represent Navajo deities typically are disassembled after a ceremony and returned to the earth, Tome said.
A letter to the Eve auction house on Friday from Jane Hartley, the U.S. ambassador to France, called for the objects to be pulled from bidding while the Hopi and Navajo tribes “determine if they have recourse to seek their return.”
In addition to taking the items off the auction block, Hartley has asked Eve director Alain Leroy to encourage a dialogue between the sellers and the tribes that would lead to the objects’ return to the Navajo and Hopi.
The Eve auction house has 270 Native American, Eskimo and pre-Colombian artifacts going under the hammer.
Anthropomorphic statuettes from Mezcala, Mexico, are pictured among other artefacts made by Native American tribes on display before their sale at the Drouot auction house in Paris on December 14, 2014
All previous legal efforts to halt such auctions have failed, although last year, the Annenberg Foundation purchased 21 Hopi masks and three San Carlos Apache objects at auction for $530,000 “for the sole purpose of returning them to their rightful owner.
The sale of some 70 Hopi masks fetched around ($1.2 million) despite international appeals to halt the auction, decried as a sacrilege by activists including Hollywood legend Robert Redford.
A view of three Hopi masks from Arizona during a Paris auction of sacred objects from the Hopi and San Carlos Apache Native American tribes in December 2013.
The 18,000-strong Hopi tribe of Arizona uses the masks in highly-private religious ceremonies where they are worn by dancers.
Meanwhile the Hopi have identified over 40 sacred objects up for auction, according to diplomatic sources.
“Several representatives came to pray and gather in front of the objects on Saturday,” said Eve auctioneer Alain Leroy.
The Hopi tribe and the native peoples defence group Survival International asked a court on Friday to order the release of the sellers’ identities.
However the Board of Voluntary Sales “declared this auction legal,” said Leroy.
“We have no intention of divulging the name of the sellers or the buyers of the masks. That stays in the private domain.”
He said it was legal to own, collect and sell the colourful masks and statuettes. “This sale is not scandalous because it is not forbidden.”
While the sale of sacred Native American artifacts has been outlawed in the United States since 1990 – in the past legislation has allowed tribes to recover items held by American museums – the law does not extend to sales overseas.
Supporters of the tribes have found a costly, but effective way to get the items back: Buy them.
The Navajo delegation is authorized to try to negotiate a purchase ahead of the auction to keep the items out of private collections.
Brightly-coloured, intricate “Kachina” dolls and masks or headdresses are valued at thousands of euros.
Kachina dolls made by Hopi and Zuni Native American tribes are on display on the eve of their sale at the Drouot auction house in Paris on December 14, 2014
One of the jewels of the collection is a 40cm-high double mask resembling two bird’s heads stacked upon one another valued at up to 60,000 euros.
Images of the masks claimed by the Navajo were no longer available on the auction house website on the eve of the sale.