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4/16/2013 9:16:00 AM
Hopi sacred objects sold at French auction for $1.2 million
French judge allows April 12 auction to go forward at Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou house despite protests
Bo Lomahquahu, a 25-year-old Hopi student whose family is from Bacavi on the Third Mesa on the Hopi Reservation in northeast Arizona, and Jean-Patrick Razon, director of Survival International France, react outside the Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou auction house in Paris after dozens of Hopi sacred objects were sold at auction. Photo/Survival For Tribal Peoples
Bo Lomahquahu, a 25-year-old Hopi student whose family is from Bacavi on the Third Mesa on the Hopi Reservation in northeast Arizona, and Jean-Patrick Razon, director of Survival International France, react outside the Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou auction house in Paris after dozens of Hopi sacred objects were sold at auction. Photo/Survival For Tribal Peoples
Katherine Locke
Williams-Grand Canyon News Reporter

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - A Paris judge allowed the Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou house to auction off close to 70 Hopi sacred objects for $1.2 million April 12 despite objections from the tribe and other advocates.

According to the French newspaper Le Monde, Judge Magali Bouvier said in his ruling that while the objects may have "a sacred value, a religious nature, or represent the spirit of these people's ancestors, it remains evident that they cannot be equated to bodies or body parts of living or dead people."

Hopi Tribal Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa said the Hopi people are saddened and disheartened by the ruling.

"It is sad to think that the French will allow the Hopi Tribe to suffer through the same cultural and religious thefts, denigrations and exploitations they experienced in the 1940s," he said. "Would there be outrage if Holocaust artifacts, Papal heirlooms or Quranic manuscripts were going up for sale on Friday to the highest bidder? I think so. Given the importance of these ceremonial objects to Hopi religion, you can understand why Hopis regard this - or any sale - as sacrilege, and why we regard an auction not as homage but as a desecration to our religion."

U.S. ambassador to France Charles Rivkin tried to intervene. He tweeted after the judge's ruling.

"I am saddened to learn that the sacred Hopi cultural objects are being put out to auction in Paris today," he said.

Survival International, an advocacy group which normally campaigns to help stop indigenous peoples' lands from being stolen from them, volunteered to help the Hopi with this case.

"French law offers very few opportunities to stop this kind of sale," said Jonathan Mazower, director of advocacy and press for Survival International. "They don't recognize that items of a religious nature ought to be treated differently than items of a commercial nature.

"But we thought it was important to intervene, we had seen the news about this auction and because we had an office in Paris, we thought we were in a position to do something about it."

In the U.S. there are laws that protect against this kind of thing but there is no similar law in France, he said. He added that the Hopi belief that a single person can't own the sacred objects worked against them.

Mazower said the only way the Hopi Tribe could stop the auction was to prove that the objects belonged to a specific individual.

He said that Survival International exists to try to even the odds a little bit for indigenous tribes.

"In these kinds of cases, the odds are stacked so much against them," Mazower said. "You have a million dollar auction going on with all the economic muscle of a big auction house in Paris and I'm sure the Hopi would see this as just the latest in a very long history of exploitation and disrespect in its most fundamental form."

Shingoitewa said that going forward he believes Indian tribes throughout the country need to come together and begin to look for ways they can help establish international law that will help protect sacred objects beyond the boundaries of the United States.

The director of the auction house insisted that the auction was an homage to the Hopi Tribe and after the ruling said he was concerned about their sadness. The Associated Press quoted a collector saying that if it weren't for the collectors and their interest that people wouldn't understand anything about the Hopi.

"I believe we want people to understand who we are and to respect us for the way we believe," Shingoitewa said. "But how these sacred objects were bought and then carried out of the auction house in bags and in sacks, you know, in our mind, that is sacrilegious."

Shingoitewa said it wasn't merely the auction that saddened him but all the photographs and descriptions of the sacred objects that were in different media outlets.

"In our way of life they are alive, and they give our people strength, they give our people the knowledge and the ability to move forward in our life on a daily basis," Shingoitewa said.

Shingoitewa said the Hopi appreciate all the support they received throughout the state of Arizona by tribes, organizations and museums, the U.S. government through the embassy and also by the people in France and throughout the world.

"This experience has not changed the Hopi," Shingoitewa said. "When people come to us we will welcome them, we will make more friends than we had before. We have to keep moving forward, tomorrow morning the sun is going to come up and we just don't stop, we have to keep going so that Hopi continues to thrive."

Shingoitewa said that perhaps the ordeal is a way to remind the Hopi of their beliefs.

"Once you are Hopi, you will always be a Hopi and with that in mind you move forward and always treat people with respect and dignity and always have a smile on your face," Shingoitewa said.




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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2013
Article comment by: Joe Dempster

How did these items ever show up in France? Does anyone know who took them?

Posted: Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Article comment by: JOANMARIE JOHNSON

As a First People "Cree" and Native American "Blackfeet", I feel the French are totally in the wrong. The Catholic Church went out of their way to not denegrate the foundations of the various tribes, but the French and other "settlers" in the Americas thought nothing of stealing anything that wasn't tied down and then some. And it continues.

Posted: Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Article comment by: Michael Link

If these objects came from Egypt,or a celtic sight in England it would have never occurred.
Once again the native americans get the dirty end of the stick. Lets see what happens to all involved later on. YA-YA is heading your way. Hold on tight Frenchies !!!!!!!




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