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Opinion: Auction of tribal property in France sets bad precedent






Bo Lomahquahu, a member of the Hopi Tribe, protested the sale of Hopi property at an auction in France in April 2013. Photo © Survival International

Attorney Pierre Ciric denounces the sale of Hopi, Zuni, Pueblo and Navajo property at various auction houses in France:
The Holocaust Art Restitution Project (“HARP”), based in Washington, DC,¹ chaired by Ori Z. Soltes, recently denounced a “shameful” and “tragic” decision by the French “Conseil des Ventes” (Auction Houses Supervisory Board, hereinafter “Board”), an administrative agency in charge of regulating and supervising auction sales on the French market, which refused to suspend an auction sale of sacred masks owned by the Hopi and Navajo tribes.² The Board held that the Hopi tribe, in fact any indigenous peoples, have no legal capacity or standing to pursue any cultural claim in France, setting the stage for the Paris market to become a safe haven for any indigenous cultural property.

On June 22, 2014, HARP initiated a judicial proceeding in France by requesting from the Board an administrative suspension of an auction sale scheduled for Friday, June 27, 2014, which involved sacred objects of both the Hopi and the Navajo tribes. Following a special hearing held in Paris on June 25, 2014, the Board, an arm of the French Government, held that the Hopi tribe, in fact any Native American tribe, has no legal existence under French law, and therefore lacks the capacity or standing to pursue any cultural claim in France.³

This dismissive denial of access to justice flies in the face of the progress made in international law by all tribes and indigenous peoples, as the French government had expressed its support for the legal status of indigenous peoples by endorsing the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) at the U.N. General Assembly. Furthermore, adding insult to injury, the Board refused to consider the provenance information for these objects, although the Board was presented with sufficient evidence that title for these sacred masks could have never vested with subsequent possessors.

Get the Story:
Pierre Ciric: Hopi and Navajo Masks Auction Precedent in France Is Too Dangerous (Artnet 7/25)

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Contested auction of sacred tribal property brings in $1.6M (12/10)
Hopi Tribe loses bid to stop auction of sacred property in France (12/9)
Hopi Tribe files suit to block auction of sacred property in France (12/3)