French Judge Rules that Auction of Hopi Katsinam Can Proceed

ICTMN Staff
4/12/13

An attempt to halt an auction in Paris of 70 katsinam considered sacred by the Hopi Tribe has failed, with a Parisian judge ruling that the items are not protected under a French law that bans "immoral" sales.

"These masks, despite their sacred character for the Hopi, cannot be likened to dead or alive beings," Judge Magali Bouvier said.

Gilles Neret-Minet, head of Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou, who defended his position vehemently in an interview with ICTMN, remained self-assured. "I was certain of this outcome because in France you cannot just up and seize the property of a person that is lawfully his," he said, according to the New York Times. " He also criticized the efforts to delay or halt the auction as too little, too late, and alluded to the threatening correspendence he says he has received in recent days. "I hope I am alive after the sale," he said.

The legal action was undertaken by Survival International, which enlisted the pro-bono services of lawyer Pierre Servan-Schreiber of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, to plead the case against the auction. Speaking outside the courtroom, Servan-Schreiber called the decision "very disappointing since the masks will be sold and dispersed,”according to the Washington Post. “The Hopi tribe will be extremely saddened by the decision, especially since the judgment recognizes that these masks have a sacred value. The judge considers that the imminent damage (to the masks) is not sufficiently strong.”

An appeal from actor Robert Redford fell on deaf ears. "To auction these would be, in my opinion, a sacrilege — a criminal gesture that contains grave moral repercussions," he wrote, as quoted in an Agence France-Presse report.

In a statement on the ruling, Survival International Director Stephen Corry warned that "potential buyers of these objects should be aware that the Hopi are profoundly distressed at their sale, and regard them as the rightful property of the Hopi people. French law appears to offer the Hopi little comfort, but we still hope that justice will prevail, and that these objects can still be returned to their proper owners."

The auction was to proceed as scheduled today, April 11.

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