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Sacred Native American objects put up for auction in Paris

Monday, December 09, 2013 - 02:14

Dec. 9 - Tribes make legal attempt to suspend sale citing cultural and religious significance. Jennifer Davis reports.

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The sale of sacred Native American objects went ahead in Paris Monday despite objections from Arizona tribes and the U.S. embassy in France. Over 20 sacred effigies, called Kachina dolls, from the Hopi and the neighboring Zuni tribe of New Mexico were included in the sale, as well as items from Arizona's San Carlos Apache tribe. The masks date from the 19th and early 20th centuries and are viewed by the Native American Hopi tribe as representatives of messengers to the gods, and the spirits of ancestors and natural forces. The Native American tribes want the sale suspended because of the masks' cultural and religious significance, but a French judge dismissed their legal challenge last week. (SOUNDBITE) PIERRE SERVAN-SCHREIBER, LAWYER FOR HOPI TRIBE, SAYING: "After having massacred them two centuries ago, after having parked them in reservations one century ago, after having pretty much deprived them of the right to work normally last century, you now deprive them of what is at the heart of their culture. At some point this has got to stop." The U.S. embassy in Paris sent a letter to auctioneers Saturday asking them to postpone the sale so Native American tribes could have time to study the objects' origin. At issue is whether the Hopi would be able to recover the artifacts arguing the illegal sale of cultural property. (SOUNDBITE) PIERRE SERVAN-SCHREIBER, LAWYER FOR HOPI TRIBE, SAYING: "Some Kachinas will be sold, some more will come to the French auction houses, there will be more actions to prevent that from happening. I'm convinced that eventually the people of France including the auctioneers and the collectors will realize that you simply cannot do that to a people." One auction art expert says the U.S. authorities could acquire the masks, which are selling for tens of thousands to more than one hundred thousand dollars. (SOUNDBITE) ERIC GENESTE, AUCTION ART EXPERT SAYING: "These objects can be bought by the U.S. government. There's no problem with that. The prices are not exorbitant." A similar controversy took place in April 2013, when the Hopi Tribe and supporters urged a different Paris auction house to suspend a similar sale. A Paris court rejected that appeal too arguing it could only do so to protect human remains or living beings.

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Sacred Native American objects put up for auction in Paris

Monday, December 09, 2013 - 02:14