| TUCSON, Ariz, April 3
TUCSON, Ariz, April 3 Plans by a top Paris
auction house to sell scores of antique tribal masks revered as
sacred ritual artifacts by a traditional Arizona Native American
tribe has triggered a furor and calls for their return.
The Hopi Tribe, living in a dozen scattered villages in on
the Hopi Reservation northeastern Arizona, is calling on
auctioneer Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou to cancel its sale of 70
objects including the sacred Katsinam masks on April 12.
The tribe, some of whose 18,000 members continue to follow a
traditional way of life farming on three isolated mesas, believe
the bright, mostly fabric masks are imbued with the spirits of
divine messengers, and they want them returned.
"It is our opinion that these sacred objects should never
have left the jurisdiction of the Hopi Tribe. ... It is our
position that no one, other than a Hopi tribal member, has a
right to possess these ceremonial objects," Leigh J.
Kuwanwisiwma, the Hopi Tribe's cultural preservation director,
wrote in a letter to the firm last week.
According to a Neret-Minet catalog, the collection was
assembled by "an amateur with assured taste" who lived in the
United States for three decades. An email to the auction house
seeking comment was not immediately answered on Wednesday.
The catalog shows dozens of hoods, some simple, some
elaborate and some with wooden or metal beaks and ears. Auction
prices are expected to range from about $2,000 to $32,000,
according to the catalog.
Kuwanwisiwma said the Katsinam, which are used during
religious ceremonies related to the farming calendar, are
"objects of cultural patrimony" protected by the United Nations
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), a
document the French government signed.
She urged the auction house to inform its clients of the
tribe's objection and ask the private owner to contact the Hopi
Office of Cultural Preservation to discuss the masks' return.
The tribe will not bid on the masks.
The Heard Museum in Phoenix, which since 1929 has
highlighted the art and artifacts of American Indian tribes, has
weighed in to support the Hopis in the dispute.
In a statement last month, the museum urged Neret-Minet to
cancel the sale and facilitate the return of the artifacts,
which would be protected on U.S. soil by the Native American
Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
"Although (the Act) does not normally have jurisdiction
outside 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," the museum
(Editing by Tim Gaynor and Todd Eastham)