Hopi Seek to Prevent Paris Auction of Katsinam


An auction of 70 Native artifacts has caused a great deal of consternation in Indian country -- and now, with one week to go, the Hopi are appealing to the U.S. government for help in preventing it

The auction of katsinam, or "friends," is scheduled for April 12 at the Neret-Minet Auction House in Paris. According to a New York Times story, the Hopi have reached out to federal officials and are receiving advice from the State and Interior Departments on what, if anything, might be done to stop the sale.

The Hopi see the matter of repatriating the items, referred to by the auction house as "masks," as an international responsibility no different from the repatriating of antiquities looted from Europe or the Middle East. But there's a big problem in this instance: Although the U.S. authorities help foreign countries retrieve artifacts being sold stateside, other countries aren't bound to reciprocate. Jack F. Trope, executive director of the Association on American Indian Affairs told the Times, "Right now there just aren’t any prohibitions against this kind of large foreign sale. ... The leverage for international repatriation just isn’t there."

Robert Breunig, Ph.D., director of the Museum of Northern Arizona, sent a letter to Neret-Minet, and also posted it to the museum's Facebook page. "I am writing to request that you cancel this auction, withdraw the katsina friends from sale, and that they be returned by the 'owner' to the Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, and Jemez people," he wrote. "I have placed quotation marks around the word 'owner,' because no one can 'own' them but the Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, and Jemez people. Although katsina friends can be held and cared for by individuals, they belong to the communities from which they come. ... I can tell you from personal knowledge that the proposed sale of these katsina friends, and the international exposure of them, is causing outrage, sadness, and stress among members of the affected tribes."

The Heard Museum, in Phoenix, also posted a letter to the Neret-Minet on its Facebook page, and called on the auction house to honor the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) as a consequence of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP): "Although NAGPRA does not normally have jurisdiction outside of the United States, since France has agreed to abide by the provisions of the UNDRIP, we feel that the nation should take steps to return these ceremonial objects as defined in Article 12 of the declaration."

The Heard letter also quoted a statement issued by Hopi Cultural Preservation Office Director Leigh J. Kuwanwisiwma: "It is our position that these sacred objects should have never left the jurisdiction of the Hopi Tribe. Also, no Hopi has any right or authority to transfer and sell these items currently in your possession as they are considered cultural patrimony. Religious objects such as these, [sic] have no commercial value. It is our position that no one, other than a Hopi tribal member, has a right to possess these ceremonial objects."

In an editorial on this site, Jim Enote, director of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center, Zuni, New Mexico, called into question the authenticity of Hopi artifacts that would end up at an auction house in Europe. 

But Gilles Néret-Minet, director of the auction house, told the New York Times that the auction "is not just a business transaction but a homage to the Hopi Indians." He added that he thinks "the Hopis should be happy that so many people want to understand and analyze their civilization."

But Kuwanwisiwma begs to differ. "The Hopi Tribe is just disgusted with the continued offensive marketing of Hopi culture," he told the New York Times.

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Kimo's picture
Submitted by Kimo on
Please Go to Facebook.com and Change.org and search "Stop the Auction of Hopi and Zuni Sacred Objects in Paris on April 12".

french reader's picture
french reader
Submitted by french reader on
Greeting to everyone;I am french and concerned with this issue.I think more clarification should be needed.Why can't the hopi send a delegation to attend the sale which is public?It is not that far,and quite simple if the matter is really of great concern.Why haven't they filed an injunction in french court to at least try to stop the sale on the basis the masks could have been stolen? I read everywhere there is no solid legal ground to cancell the sale but I cannot believe it.And it would attract coverage from media and attention from public opinion.What is the position of the spiritual leaders on this issue?did the Hopi really try to contact not just the auction house representative,but the collector himself,or the experts of the sale?why did the tribal chairman in his letter write that he wants to check if the masks were legally obtained,I thought there was no way they could have been legally obtained.And the catalogue states that at least some of them were bought from US private collections.Please understand that the french or whoever will attend this auction don't know anything on these issues,they just think these are works of art.In my opinion this has nothing to do with repatriation of antiquities looted from europe or Middle east.If you follow this idea you will loose because you will not be able to prove they were stolen.You should base your claim on your living religion and culture and explain this to the "french"(for lack of better word,I don't think we are collectivelly responsible).But the first thing would be to speak to the current owner as a human being.What about the idea that other wealthier tribes -or the museums-raise funds to buy the masks from the collector?is this contrary to hopi belief?

Perry Ortiz Silverbird's picture
Perry Ortiz Sil...
Submitted by Perry Ortiz Sil... on
It upsets me to no end that people who buy artifacts look at this as an investment. We deserve better than this & we have given so much for people not to help our strife. So much harm has been done to Native American culture through the years. This activity today is unjust and dispicable to say the least. Please help in retrieving these articles back to their rightful owners. AHO.