Feedback
News

Native American ceremonial items up for auction in Paris; US attempts to halt sale

A picture taken on April 5, 2013 in Paris shows the "Wakaskatsina" sacred mask of the Arizona's Hopi native American tribe. The United States asked on December 7, 2013 a Paris auction house to delay a controversial scheduled auction of 25 sacred objects from the Hopi and San Carlos Apache Native American tribes. Miguel Medina / AFP - Getty Images

An auction of 25 Native American ceremonial masks, headdresses and other items, including an altar once owned by the late actor Vincent Price, will proceed in Paris despite attempts by the United States and opponents to halt the public sale.

A judge in Paris ruled Tuesday that the sale of the items, which originate from the Hopi and San Carlos Apache nations, did not violate French law.

In a last-ditch effort to halt the auction, U.S. diplomat Mark Taplin sent a letter Saturday to Paris auction house EVE requesting that the auction be postponed until the "provenance" of the sacred artifacts could be evaluated and possibly repatriated back to the tribes.

"The embassy made this request on behalf of the two tribes so that they might have the opportunity to identify the objects, investigate their provenance and determine whether they have a claim to recover the items under the 1970 Unesco convention on the export and transfer of ownership of cultural property, to which France is a signatory, or under other laws," the embassy said in a statement to the Guardian.

A picture taken on April 5, 2013 in Paris shows the "Hemiskatsina" sacred mask of the Arizona's Hopi native American tribe. Miguel Medina / AFP - Getty Images

Jean-Patrick Razon, French director of Survival International, a nonprofit indigenous rights organization, told NBC News that the coming auction is a "violation of the beliefs" of Native American cultures.

"This sale is blasphemous," he said in statement. "It is time for the buyers to acknowledge that monetization of such kinds of sacred objects is immoral."

In April, a Parisian judge approved the sale of 70 ceremonial "kachina," or spirit, masks after the Hopi Nation took French firm Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou to court. Amid international opposition of the auction, including an appeal by actor Robert Redford, the judge ruled that such items are not protected under French law.

The masks eventually fetched around $1.3 million, though some of the masks have since been returned to the Hopi Nation, Indian Country Today reported.

Since 1990, the United States has enacted federal laws forbidding the sale and trade of Native American ceremonial and funerary items. 

In the current sale, the 25 Native American artifacts, which allegedly date back to the 19th or early 20th century, will be auctioned Monday and Tuesday along with a Zuni altar that used to belong to the late Hollywood actor Vincent Price, The Associated Press reported.

A file picture taken on April 5, 2013 in Paris shows the "Hemiskatsinmana" sacred mask of the Arizona's Hopi Native American tribe. Miguel Medina / AFP - Getty Images

Pierre Servan-Schreiber, legal counsel for the Hopi Nation in France, said he longs for the days when indigenous peoples' ceremonial objects are no longer relegated to collector's items.

"One day soon, we will finally be able to debate before the court on a very simple question: can really anything be bought and sold?" he said in statement. "Are there not certain objects which by their nature cannot be considered as simple artifacts but as sacred objects which must be returned to the people who created and worship them?"

The EVE auction house did not respond to NBC's request for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.