Canku Ota Logo
Canku Ota
Canku Ota Logo
(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
pictograph divider
Navajo Nation Purchases Seven Ceremonial Masks At Paris Auction House
by Noel Lyn Smith - The Farmington Daily Times
credits: (all photos by Francois Mori)

16 Dec 2014

What's next: Ceremonial masks are scheduled to return with tribal officials Tuesday

Supporters of Native Americans hold a banner reading "Selling and handling stolen goods equals to a cultural genocide," at center, and "We are not for sale," left, during a protest outside of the Drouot's auction house during the contested auction of Native American artifacts on Monday in Paris.

FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation officials have purchased seven ceremonial masks at a Paris auction.

The masks were sold Monday for about $9,120, according to a press release from the tribe's Legislative Branch.

A 140-page auction catalog posted online identified the masks as being from the Yei 'Bi 'Chei, or Nightway ceremony, a major nine-day healing ceremony that takes place in the winter.

The masks were among 275 items sold by the Drouot, a public auction house. A private collector placed the masks for sale through the auction house. The sale also included art and artifacts from the Acoma, Hopi and Zuni tribes.

"We are happy to be taking these Navajo sacred masks home to be cleansed by our Navajo medicine people, who will determine when these masks will be used in our wintertime ceremonies," said Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim in a press release from the tribe's Washington, D.C., office.

The Associated Press reported that several of the masks received a competing bid from a French art collector, but he stopped bidding after seeing that tribal members had attended the auction to purchase the masks.

French lawyer Pierre Servan-Schreiber, who is defending Native Americans, speaks to the media at the Drouot's auction house in Paris during the contested auction of Native American items on Monday.

Jim was among four tribal officials who visited Paris to view the masks before Monday's auction.

The vice president offered Navajo prayers for the masks, which are thought to be from the early 1900s, in a private ceremony at the auction house, according to the press release.

Tribal lawmakers, through the Legislative Branch's Subcommittee on Sacred Sites, had been working with the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission and the Navajo Nation Historic Preservation Department, as well as receiving guidance from Navajo medicine people, to have the masks returned to the tribe.

"We made every attempt to retrieve the items prior to the auction. We remained diligent and respectful throughout and were able to recover items that were taken from our homeland," said Pro Tem Speaker LoRenzo Bates in the Legislative Branch press release.

The subcommittee directed the Human Rights Commission to send a delegation to Paris to retrieve the masks before the sale. Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly approved the international travel on Dec. 10, and the tribe's Office of the Speaker paid for travel expenses.

Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim poses for the media on Monday outside of the Drouot's auction house in Paris prior to the contested auction of Native American artifacts.

The delegation also received authorization to spend up to $20,000 to purchase the masks, said Deswood Tome, special adviser to Shelly.

Prior to the auction, tribal officials had been working with French Ambassador Jane Hartley, the U.S. Embassy in France, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to have the masks returned, according to the Washington office news release.

Earlier in the year, the embassy worked with the Hopi Tribe to try to block the sale of sacred Hopi masks but was unsuccessful.

International law does not prohibit the sale or collecting of sacred artifacts or art from Native American tribes.

In the U.S., the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act requires federal agencies and institutions that receive federal funding to return Native American cultural items to lineal descendants and affiliated tribes. But the act has no grounds internationally.

Tome said the delegation was allowed to see the masks Saturday and worked with the Historic Preservation Department to determine each mask's authenticity.

In a Dec. 10 press release from the president's office, it was reported there were eight masks for auction.

Tome said seven were determined to be Navajo, but the auction house did not locate or produce the eighth mask.

The masks are scheduled to return with the delegation on Tuesday.

pictograph divider
Home PageFront PageArchivesOur AwardsAbout Us
Kid's PageColoring BookCool LinksGuest BookEmail Us
pictograph divider
  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  
Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000 - 2015 of Vicki Williams Barry and Paul Barry.
Canku Ota Logo   Canku Ota Logo
The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the
Copyright © 1999 - 2015 of Paul C. Barry.
All Rights Reserved.

Site Meter
Thank You

Valid HTML 4.01!