Vincent Schilling
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has denounced the Paris auction of Sacred Native items. (Photo: White House Tribal Nations Conference)

Interior Sec. Jewell Denounces Paris Auction of Sacred Native Items

Vincent Schilling

On Monday May 30th, a Paris auction house will hold an auction of American Indian sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony. This has sparked outrage in Indian Country and on social media, and the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. called for the immediate halting of the auction last Tuesday. The hashtag #StopTheParisAuction was trending on social media soon after the NMAI press conference.

Tribal leaders and government officials were in D.C. on Tuesday asking for the auction house to stop the sale.

See related:NMAI Tells Press: Stop Paris Auction of Sacred Items and Human Remains

One day after the NMAI’s press conference, Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell also issued a public statement denouncing the auction in Paris.

Jewell issued the following statement on Thursday:

“Auctioning off tribal sacred objects is extremely troubling not only because tribal law precludes the sale of these objects by individuals, but because items held by a dealer or collector are likely the results of wrongful transfer and may be for sale illegally….I call upon the French government to work with the United States government and with tribes to find a path toward repatriating these cultural items which are at the heart of Native American heritage and identity.”

The release also said that last December, Secretary Jewell met with France's former Minister of Justice to seek cooperation in repatriating these sacred objects to Indian tribes in the United States.

Under tribal customary law, sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony are owned by the tribe as a whole. They must be treated with special care by people who are authorized to do so.

In light of recurring auction house sales, Secretary Jewell instructed Interior Department staff to cooperate with tribes and other federal agencies, including the Departments of State and Justice, to review the circumstances by which sacred objects and other important tribal patrimony are making their way into foreign markets. She also called for the strengthening of laws to provide more ability to monitor and prevent exports of wrongfully acquired tribal cultural property.

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