Hopi Sue Auction House To Stop Another Sale

December 05, 2013
Laurel Morales
A painting of a katsina or friend at the Museum of Northern Arizona

The Hopi Tribe is trying to block a French auction house from selling 32 sacred objects. A Paris judge will rule Friday. This story contains language sensitive to the Hopi people.

Much of the Hopi religion is shrouded in secrecy. They don’t want these items seen or discussed, let alone sold. To the tribe, they are their friends. To most everyone else, they are masks. They are protected in the United States and cannot be sold here, but at least three sales have occurred in France in the last decade.

The tribe’s lawyer is using French law to argue that it’s illegal to sell them as commercial art because the masks are like tombs holding their ancestors’ spirits.

In April the tribe said they were stolen but the auction house had papers proving everything was bought from galleries. The Paris court ruled that such sales are legal in France. And the auction house sold about 70 sacred items for $1.2 million.