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Arizona tribe seeks artifacts up for auction

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 3, 2013 at 3:40 pm •  Published: April 3, 2013
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An email sent to Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou on Tuesday was not returned, and the auction house declined immediate comment when contacted by a reporter on Wednesday. The press release announcing the auction said the items were collected by a "connoisseur with peerless taste," who had lived in the United States for more than 30 years and had attended katsina dances at the Hopi villages but doesn't say how.

Jose Viarreal, editor of the website artdaily.org, published the news release and said he received calls afterward from Hopis furious about the sale. He said he contacted the auction house and was told the items were obtained legally.

"I think this is going to go through as planned," he said.

Kuwanwisiwma said no Hopi has authority to sell or transfer such items because they are considered cultural patrimony, and no one other than a Hopi tribal member should possess them. Things haven't always worked out that way.

The Heard Museum in Phoenix is backing the Hopi Tribe's effort to recover the items and said it was hopeful the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People could be used as leverage. France was among the first to sign the declaration that says indigenous people have the right to repatriation of their human remains, ceremonial objects and cultural patrimony.

The auction house cited a book written by the founder of the Museum of Northern Arizona in its description of the katsinas, which Hopi artists commonly depict in carved, wooden figures and sell. The museum's director, Robert Breunig, appealed to the sense of decency and humanity in asking that the auction be called off.

"To be displayed disembodied in your catalog and on the Internet is sacrilegious and offensive," he wrote in a letter to the auction house. "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."

If returned, Kuwanwisiwma said the items will be placed in the care of the head katsina priest. The tribe would not bid on the objects otherwise, he said.

"Culturally we made it clear that there's no price tag on our ceremonial and religious objects," he said. "That's pretty much out of the question."

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Associated Press Writer Lori Hinnant in Paris contributed to this report.