Native artifact sale makes $1.6 million

Native artifact sale makes $1.6 million

PARIS - The Associated Press
Native artifact sale makes $1.6 million

Three Hopi masks from Arizona are seen during the auction of sacred objects from the Hopi and San Carlos Apache Native American tribes in Paris. AFP photo

A French auction house that ignored a plea by the U.S. Embassy to delay an auction of sacred Hopi masks sold them briskly Dec. 10 along with other contested Native American artifacts for $1.6 million.

As protesters stood outside the Drouot auction house with banners reading “Sacred Masks, Sacrilegious Sale,” some 25 vividly colored Kachina masks went under the hammer inside.

Though a judge ruled last week that the sale of the artifacts is legal in France, the American Indian Hopi tribe says the artifacts represent their ancestors’ spirits and cannot be sold as merchandise.

Objects sold quickly, including the sacred “Crow Mother,” a menacing Hopi mask with billowing black plumes, that was bought at nearly twice its expected value at $171,000.

“This is the event of the year. It’s right here, right now. This is the American Indian sale of 2013,” auctioneer Eric Deneste said light-heartedly.

The U.S. Embassy made a request for delay on behalf of the Hopi and San Carlos Apache tribes, to allow them time to come to France and identify the artifacts and investigate whether they have a claim to the items under the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Both France and the U.S. are signatories to the treaty.

Pierre Servan-Schreiber, a lawyer who represents the Hopi tribe, said that he bought one of the Hopi masks to return to the tribe.