Sacred artefacts auctioned in the face of protests

A collection of sacred Native American objects was auctioned at Drouot Richelieu, Paris on 31 May in the face of widespread protests from US officials, tribal leaders and the public.

Organised by EVE (Estimations Ventes aux Enchères) auction house, the Art Amerindien, Art Precolombien, Afrique et Oceanie sale offered 314 objects. These included a war shirt made from hair from humans scalps and several Hopi tribal objects.

In a bid to halt the sale, an emergency meeting of US government and NGO officials together with tribal leaders took place on 24 May at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. Speakers at the meeting condemned the auction and called for enhanced protection of sacred artefacts in the US and abroad.

During the sale, protesters gathered outside with banners that read “cultural genocide” and “sacred not for sale”. In response to a request for comment from Hyperallergic prior to the auction, EVE director Alain Leroy had reiterated that “all the items proposed are of legal trade in the US and in France”.

In what the spokesperson for the US embassy in France, Phil Frayne, called “a small victory in a larger battle” an Acoma Pueblo ceremonial shield was withdrawn before it was due to be auctioned. The decision to remove the 19th century shield, which is made of tanned and painted hide, was made after concerns were raised that it may have been illegally obtained in the 1970s.

Members of New Mexico’s Acoma Pueblo tribe claim the shield was stolen from its owner’s home. US Interior Secretary, Sally Jewell, wrote to French authorities pleading with them to remove the artefact from auction. US authorities provided the French government with documentation pointing to the alleged theft in the form of a statement from the Acoma tribe’s preservation officer and a sworn affidavit from the granddaughter of one of its traditional leaders who at one time cared for the shield.

According to Acoma Pueblo Governor Kurt Riley, the tribe is still in the process of having the shield repatriated as EVE “remains steadfast, claiming US federal laws don’t apply.

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