Foundation Buys Sacred Artifacts To Return To Hopi

By Laurel Morales
December 11, 2013
Laurel Morales
A painting of a katsina or friend at the Museum of Northern Arizona

The Los Angeles-based Annenberg Foundation purchased 21 Hopi sacred artifacts up for auction Monday in Paris to return them to the tribe.

Gregory Annenberg Weingarten bought the masks, along with artifacts belonging to the San Carlos Apache Tribe, for $530,000. Weingarten said in a press release while he “was struck by the awesome power and beauty of these objects, these are not trophies to have on one’s mantel.” And they belong with their “rightful owners.” 

“He’s excited about the idea of just returning the artifacts,” said Leonard Aube, executive director of the Annenberg Foundation. “But he’s equally excited about using this as a broader moment in time, perhaps as a teachable moment.”

Hopi cultural leader Sam Tenakhongva also hopes this sends a message.

“Regardless of your background or religious faith or your beliefs, some things just can’t be put up for sale,” Tenakhongva said.

The Hopi call the ceremonial items friends and believe them to be living spirits. This is the second such sale that the tribe — with the help of a Survival International attorney — has tried to stop.

While they are protected in the U.S., a French judge has twice ruled that such sales are legal in France.

The Annenberg Foundation is an underwriter for NPR.