France Refuses to Halt Sale of Hopi Religious Artifacts

The tribe says this fourth sale of sacred artifacts in two years is "appalling."

Member of the Hopi tribe Bo Lomahquahu standing outside of Druout in protest of the auction of Native American Hopi masks on April 12, 2013. Photo: © Michel Euler/ /AP/Corbis.

The Holocaust Restitution Project (HARP) and the Chairman of the Native American Hopi Tribe Council, Herman G. Honanie have been dealt a blow in the tribe’s latest legal bid to stop the sale of sacred ‘Kwaa Tsis’ (masks) and other artifacts (see “Hopi Tribe Fights to Stop Sale of Sacred Artifacts“). Despite a last minute bid to stop the sale through an appeal to the French Conseil des Ventes (Board of Auction Sales), the sale of around 250 Native American and Eskimo artifacts went ahead on Monday.

The board, which has the power to suspend such sales, announced its decision after a special hearing in Paris last week. All told, nearly 20 Hopi masks were sold on Monday, with one example fetching €87,500 ($109,375). A joint press release from HARP and the Hopi Tribe denounced the French auction regulator’s decision as “appalling” and “outrageous.”

In a statement, HARP chairman Ori Z. Soltes said “The Conseil just held that the Hopi tribe Chairman had no standing to file a claim…The French Government is sending a clear and appalling message that its market is wide open to looted property.”

In a letter to the US State Department provided to artnet News, Arizona Senator John McCain appealed to the Federal government for help, writing that “According to tribal tradition, displaying and selling these items is sacrilegious and offensive, and the Hopi Tribe has requested a halt to these auctions and repatriation of items to the tribe.”

Senator McCain added “We respectfully request the State Department review this matter and provide us with a response on how the federal government might be able to address the Hopi’s concerns.”

The Arizona-based Hopi are among the most religiously conservative Native American tribes in the United States. The tribe based its unsuccessful legal claim on American legislation protecting Native American religious artifacts. They argued that due to the sacred nature of the ‘Kwaa Tsi’ (masks), ownership never passed from the tribe to the consignor.

The Navajo Tribe, which also had several sacred artifacts included in the sale, opted to purchase them back from their consignors and plans to have them purified by their shamans such that they can be used in ceremonies once again.

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