US asks French auctioneer to halt sale of Native American items


PARIS — The United States is calling for a French auctioneer to halt a sale of artifacts made by Native American tribes set for Monday and instead help items be returned.

A letter to the Eve auction house on Friday from Jane Hartley, the U.S. ambassador to France, called for the objects to be pulled from bidding while the Hopi and Navajo tribes ��determine if they have recourse to seek their return.�� A Navajo delegation argues the objects belong to the tribe �X which considers them living beings �X after viewing the items at the Drouot auction house in Paris, according to an embassy statement. The delegation spotted eight ��sacred�� masks and a series of Hopi statuettes and representations of faces.

In addition to taking the items off the auction block, Hartley has asked Eve director Alain Leroy to encourage a dialogue between the sellers and the tribes that would lead to the objects’ return to the Navajo and Hopi. Meanwhile, the Hopi tribe and the native peoples defense group Survival International asked a court on Friday to order the release of the sellers’ identities.

Activists’ previous attempts to block auctions of Native American objects in France have failed, with French courts rejecting three prior requests from the Hopi and Survival International since April 2013. Previous pressure from the United States on Eve to halt sales of objects from the tribes were unsuccessful as well.

An auction of Native American masks originating from the Hopi tribe went ahead in June despite objections from the U.S. embassy and members of the 18,000-strong community located in the U.S. state of Arizona. However, supporters of the tribes have found a costly, but effective way to get the items back: buy them.

The Annenberg Foundation purchased 21 Hopi masks and three San Carlos Apache objects at auction in 2013 for US$530,000 (390,000 euros) ��for the sole purpose of returning them to their rightful owner,�� it said.