Native American Masks Purchased By Charity, Will Be Returned To Tribes

Twenty-one Native American masks were purchased by a charity organization for $530,000. The masks were sold in a controversial auction at Paris’ auction house, EVE. The Annenberg Foundation said they will return the sacred masks to the Hopi and Apache tribes.

Members of the Hopi tribe attempted to halt the auction by filing a civil case against the auction house. However, Judge Claire David said there were no legal grounds to stop the auction. She sympathized with the Hopi but ruled that the auction house legally obtained the artifacts.

The Hopi masks are close to 100 years old. Hopi leader Sam Tenakhongva said the artifacts hold “significant cultural and religious value.” The Hopi believe the masks contain the spirits of their ancestors, and that they should be treated as “living beings.” He also said they need to be “properly cared for by those vested with the proper knowledge and responsibility.”

The sacred masks were most likely stolen from tribal land during the 20th century. Although the sale of Native American masks and artifacts is forbidden in the United States, the laws do not extend to Europe.

As reported by BBC, Tenakhongva applauds the Anneberg Foundation for stepping in. He hopes the situation will raise awareness about the unethical sale of sacred artifacts.

Attorneys for EVE defended the auction. They argue that forbidding the sale of artifacts could negatively impact museums by forcing them to return previously purchased collections.

Although the masks will be returned to the tribes, Hopi attorney Pierre Servan-Schreiber said it never should have happened, as “some things are too important” to sell. Unfortunately, Monday’s sale was not the first time sacred masks were auctioned.

In April, 70 Hopi masks were auctioned for more than $1 million. As reported by Wall Street Journal, April’s auction was held in Paris as well.

Despite their sacred nature, Native American masks and artifacts remain valuable to collectors. However, tribal leaders are attempting to raise awareness about the unethical sales.

[image via Flickr]

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