US Efforts Fail to Halt French Auction of Hopi Artifacts

A Hopi Katsinam that was on offer on Friday at Pari-based auction house Eve. Photo via Eve Paris

Efforts by the United States Embassy to halt a large sale of Native American religious items from the Hopi people failed on Friday , the New York Times reports. Ahead of Paris-based auction house Eve’s fourth such auction in the past 18 months, Embassy invited French government officials, art dealers, academics, and lawyers to attend a lecture by US federal judge Diane Humetewa. An expert on Native American legal issues and herself a member of the Hopi tribe, Humetawa explained why the commercial exchange of spiritual items is both insulting and sacrilegious.

Despite those efforts and two legal challenges to the sale, the embassy’s efforts proved fruitless and the auction went ahead. The French court ruled—as it had in December 2012, April 2013 and December 2013—that there were no grounds to stop the sale because the pieces were legally acquired by a French collector in the US. Hopi cultural leader Thomas Banyacya Jr. called the ruling, “Sad but predictable.”

Of the 29 Hopi headdresses offered on Friday, only nine were sold, for a totaling $187,000. A similar auction in April 2013 saw more than 60 of the 70 mask- and figure-like objects called Katsinam bring in $1.2 million. The limited success of Friday’s sale has been interpreted by US embassy officials and Native American leaders as a sign that the market is beginning to respect tribal wishes. Asked about the results Sylvie Robaglia, a spokeswoman for Eve, told the paper, “The market is more and more selective.”

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