An auction house in Paris, France, Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou, plans to auction off 70 ceremonial katsina friends, improperly translated into English as “masks,” on April 12, 2013.
This sale not only violates law; it violates decency. Mr. Gilles Néret-Minet, the director of the Paris auction house, has said repeatedly that he will not delay the $1 million sale.
Gilles Neret-Minet told the New York Times that the Hopi should understand the sale as an "homage" to them. "Even if it chagrins them, for the tribe this is not a negative, I think the Hopis should be happy that so many people want to understand and analyze their civilization."
This proposed sale has stirred outrage in the art, legal, and tribal heritage communities.
Below is an open letter to the auction house, in which Museum of Northern Arizona Director Dr. Robert Breunig voices his condemnation of this planned sale of significant religious objects, adding MNA to the public opposition to this sale by the Hopi and Zuni tribal members, the Heard Museum, and many individuals.
March 29, 2013
Étude Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou
8, Rue Saint-Marc
75002 Paris FRANCE
To the Directors,
I am the director of the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, Arizona. If the name of the museum is familiar to you, it is because this museum was founded by Harold S. Colton, my predecessor and the author of "Hopi Kachina Dolls," the book you have cited as an authoritative source in the listing of 70 Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, and Jemez “masques katsinam,” properly called “katsina friends” and advertised for an auction by your firm on April 12, 2013.
I am writing to request that you cancel this auction, withdraw the katsina friends from sale, and that they be returned by the “owner” to the Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, and Jemez people. I have placed quotation marks around the word “owner,” because no one can “own” them but the Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, and Jemez people. Although katsina friends can be held and cared for by individuals, they belong to the communities from which they come or to specific ceremonial societies. Under tribal custom and law they cannot be sold or given away by an individual.
I can tell you from personal knowledge that the proposed sale of these katsina friends, and the international exposure of them, is causing outrage, sadness, and stress among members of the affected tribes. For them katsina friends are living beings; that is why they are called “friends” (kwatsi) in the Hopi language. The friends are loved, cared for, and ceremonially fed. They are a connection between the human world and the spirits of all living things and the ancestors. To be displayed disembodied in your catalogue and on the internet is sacrilegious and offensive. If one claims to value these katsina friends as “works of art,” one must also respect the people who made them and the native traditions that govern their use. And, as fellow human beings, it is my hope that you will offer understanding and empathy to the tribal people who are so deeply affected by this proposed sale. You cannot honor and value these katsina friends while dishonoring their makers. These are universal principles of cross-cultural human conduct.
On behalf of the Museum of Northern Arizona, I appeal to your sense of decency and humanity, and request that you terminate the auction and send these katsina friends to their proper homes among the native people in Arizona and New Mexico.
Robert G. Breunig, Ph.D.
Director, Museum of Northern Arizona
And here is the Official Hopi Tribe position statement:
Pursuant to ARTICLE VI –POWERS OF THE TRIBAL COUNCIL, SECTIION 1, (k) CONSTITUTION AND BY-LAWS OF THE HOPI TRIBE, the Hopi Tribe/Hopi Cultural Preservation Office, of Arizona, USA, strongly opposes any sale of Hopi religious objects, described by your auction house as “70 Katsinam masks of the Hopi Indians of Arizona…”. These Katsina friends are sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony held under religious custody by the Hopi people.
It is our position that these sacred objects should have never left the jurisdiction of the Hopi Tribe. Also, no Hopi has any right or authority to transfer and sell these items currently in your possession as they are considered cultural patrimony.
Religious objects such as these, have no commercial value. It is our position that no one, other than a Hopi tribal member, has a right to possess these ceremonial objects.
You are urgently asked to take these item off your auction and inform your clients that the Hopi tribe does not approve of them being auctioned off. Rather, we urge you and your clients to make immediate contact with the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office to begin respectful discussions to return them back to the tribe.
You may also know that the country of France, was among the first nations to sign the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Rights. Your auction house needs to respect this important international recognition of indigenous and Hopi rights.
Thank you for your consideration of our position on this matter.
And in fact, you can’t sell what you don’t own.
A judge has ordered a hearing for tomorrow, Thursday, April 11, 2013.
The US Embassy is involved now.
US Diplomat Asks Auction House to Delay Sale of Hopi Items
New York Times (blog)
“Given the ancestry of these masks and the distance between Paris and the Hopi reservation,” the embassy's cultural affairs minister, Philip J. Breeden, wrote on behalf of the Hopi Tribe last week, “requesting a delay seems reasonable to allow for a ...
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We are fortunate in having Pierre Servan-Shreiber as pro bono counsel on behalf of the native people in this matter.
Please sign the petition:
and invite your appropriate facebook pals to sign also.
Also, letters and emails of protest to the auction house are suggested.
Auction House email: email@example.com
Auction House mailing address:
M. Eric Geneste
31bis rue du Faubourg Montmartre
Telephone number #33 (0)6 72747142
NERET-MINET TESSIER & SARROU LTD. - 2001-014 APPROVAL
8, RUE SAINT-MARC - 75002 PARIS 8, RUE SAINT-MARC - 75002 PARIS
TÉL. TEL. : 01 40 13 07 79 : 01 40 13 07 79
FAX : 01 42 33 61 94 FAX: 01 42 33 61 94
Palais de Élysée
55, rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré
- e-mail : www.elysee.fr
Contact at U.S. Embassy in Paris:
Office of the Minister-Counselor for Public Affairs
Embassy of the United States
2 avenue Gabriel, 75008 Paris
Tel : 33 (0) 1 43 12 28 98
Fax : 33 (0) 1 43 12 24 01
Email : Prepontmc@state.gov
Embassy Home Page : http://france.usembassy.gov