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US buyer returns sacred artefacts sold in Paris to tribes

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-12

A US-based foundation bought 24 Native American artefacts sold Monday at a controversial Paris auction and will return them to the tribes from which they originated. The auction went ahead despite a request from the US embassy to halt the sale.

A US-based foundation has purchased dozens of Native American artefacts sold Monday at a controversial auction in Paris, and will return them to the tribes to which they originally belonged.

The Annenberg Foundation revealed Wednesday that it had bought 24 of the sacred Native American artefacts for a total of $530,000 (€390,000).

"Twenty-one of these items will be returned to the Hopi Nation in Arizona, and three artefacts belonging to the San Carlos Apache will be returned to the Apache tribe," the foundation said in a statement.

The auction of 24 Hopi masks – which are worn by dancers during religious ceremonies and are considered living beings – and three San Carlos Apache objects took place Monday at the EVE auction house despite a request from the US embassy to halt the sale.

The US embassy had asked for the suspension after a legal challenge filed by the advocacy group Survival International on behalf of the Hopi tribe had failed last week.

The embassy said in a letter to the auctioneers that it had asked for the delay so that the two tribes "might have the opportunity to identify the objects, investigate their provenance and determine whether they have a claim to recover the items under the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, to which France is a signatory, or under other laws".

The sale of sacred Indian artefacts has been outlawed in the United States since 1990, but the law does not extend to sales overseas.

The French judge who ruled on the legal challenge filed on behalf of the Hopi 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".

The lawyer who represented the Hopi in the legal challenge also bought one of the masks, but the fate of two more items included in the sale remained unclear.

"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," said Sam Tenakhongva, a Hopi cultural leader, in a statement.

The Annenberg Foundation is based in Los Angeles and provides funding and support to non-profit organisations around the world.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

 

Date created : 2013-12-11

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