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By Culturekiosque Staff

LOS ANGELES, 12 DECEMBER 2013 — The Annenberg Foundation in Los Angeles has announced that it was the anonymous buyer of the 24 sacred Native American artifacts at the controversial sale conducted by French auctioneers EVE at the Hotel Drouot in Paris on Monday. The American not-for-profit paid $530,000 (390,000 euros) "for the sole purpose of returning them to their rightful owner." Twenty-one of these items will be returned to the Hopi nation in Arizona, and three artifacts belonging to the San Carlos Apache will be returned to the Apache tribe.

"This is a great day for not only the Hopi people but for the international community as a whole," said Sam Tenakhongva, a Hopi cultural leader. "The Annenberg Foundation set an example today of how to do the right thing. Our hope is that this act sets an example for others that items of significant cultural and religious value can only be properly cared for by those vested with the proper knowledge and responsibility. They simply cannot be put up for sale."

A Katsina Hapota mask
from the Hopi and San Carlos Apache Native American tribes

The positive development came after efforts, including those of the U.S. Embassy, were made to delay the auction of the Hopi and Apache items. Acting on behalf of the advocacy group Survival International and the Hopi nation, attorney Pierre Servan-Schreiber went last week before a judge in Paris in an attempt to have the sale of the Hopi items blocked, but on 6 December, the court ruled against him.

Claire David, the French judge in charge of the legal challenge to Monday's auction acknowledged that the sale of the objects could "constitute an affront to the dignity" of the tribe.

But she said "this moral and philosophical consideration does not in itself give the judge the right to suspend the sale of these masks which is not forbidden in France."

In light of the French court's ruling, Annenberg Foundation Vice President and Director Gregory Annenberg Weingarten made the decision to intervene,  thus reminding the world that a concern for ethics can supersede the application of the letter of the law.

Katsinam Masks of the Hopi nationi

"As an artist, I was struck by the awesome power and beauty of these objects," said Weingarten. "But these are not trophies to have on one’s mantel; they are truly sacred works for the Native Americans. They do not belong in auction houses or private collections. It gives me immense satisfaction to know that they will be returned home to their rightful owners, the Native Americans."

"Hopefully this gesture is the beginning of a larger conversation to discuss and inform various communities about what is sacred and what is for sale," concluded Hopi leader Sam Tenakhongva.

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act gives federally recognized Native American tribes a way to reclaim funerary objects and ceremonial items from federal agencies and museums in the United States. The law, however, does not apply to items held internationally.

Sacred "Tumas Crow Mother" sold for nearly twice its expected value at $171,000.

This is the second time the advocacy group has failed to prevent a sale of Native American artifacts in France. In April of this year, Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou auctioned 70 artifacts for €930,000, ignoring pleas and protests around the world. Servan-Schreiber, who acted for Survival International and the Hopi nation in that case as well, bought and returned a sacred Hopi artifact to the tribe last summer. He also bought on Monday one artifact for €13,000 and intends to return it to the Hopi.

Headline mage: Kwasa'Ytaqa / Korowista: Hopi Mask, Arizona, ca. 1890 -1900
© Catalogue Néret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou

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