Paris judge rejects attempt to halt auction of Hopi sacred objects

April 12, 2013

Hopi elder James Kootshongsie, who died in 1996. The Hopi are ‘vehemently opposed’ to the sale of the tribe’s sacred objects in a Paris auction house. © Survival International

This page was created in 2013 and may contain language which is now outdated.

Robert Redford amongst many who had asked for auction to be scrapped

A Paris judge today threw out a bid by Survival International to block a controversial auction of sacred objects of Arizona’s Hopi tribe. The judge ruled that ‘in spite of their sacredness to the Hopi these masks are not a representation of any creature, alive or dead.’

The auction house Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou had turned down repeated requests by the tribe to postpone the sale, which will now take place in Paris today.

The Hopi tribe is ‘vehemently opposed’ to the auction of the Katsinam (“friends”), which are of spiritual significance to the tribe, and had requested that the objects be returned to them immediately.

Lawyers for Survival International had asked the judge to stop the sale until the lawfulness of the collection could be established, but there is now no legal obstacle to the auction taking place.

Actor Robert Redford earlier pleaded for the auction to be scrapped. ‘To auction these would be, in my opinion, a sacrilege – a criminal gesture that contains grave moral repercussions. I would hope that these sacred items can be returned to the Hopi tribe where they belong. They are not for auction’, he said in a statement.

Lawyer Pierre Servan-Schreiber of the firm Skadden, Arps said today, ‘This is a very unfortunate outcome, as these objects will now be sold and dispersed, and the likelihood that they will eventually return to their true home amongst the Hopi is severely reduced. It also probably means that French institutions are still not fully aware of the devastating consequences that such mercantile fate for truly sacred objects may have on tribes who have already suffered so much.’

Stephen Corry, Director of Survival International, said today, ‘Potential buyers of these objects should be aware that the Hopi are profoundly distressed at their sale, and regard them as the rightful property of the Hopi people. French law appears to offer the Hopi little comfort, but we still hope that justice will prevail, and that these objects can still be returned to their proper owners.’

Note to Editors:

The Hopi tribe number around 18,000, living in 12 villages in northeastern Arizona. They call their homeland Hopituskwa.

High resolution images of the protest in Paris:

Young Hopi man Bo Lomahquahu with Director of Survival International France Jean-Patrick Razon. © Survival

Protesters from Survival International hand out leaflets outside the auction house. © Survival

Media outside the auction house in Paris. © Survival