Navajo officials win bid to buy back tribal artefacts at contested auction


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Navajo officials will be able to buy tribal masks at an auction of Native American artifacts in Paris. Today’s sale went on despite US government efforts to stop it.

The objects for sale at the Drouot auction house included sacred masks, coloured in pigment, believed to have been used in Navajo wintertime healing ceremonies.

The sale which totalled €929,000 (£739,000), or $1.1m, also included dozens of Hopi kachina dolls and several striking Pueblo masks embellished with horse hair, bone and feathers, the origins of which are unclear.

The US embassy in Paris had asked Drouot to suspend the sale to allow Navajo and Hopi representatives to determine where they came from. But Drouot refused, arguing that the sale was in accordance with the law and that a French tribunal had previously ruled that a similar sale was legal.

Navajo Nation vice-president Rex Lee Jim said the objects were not art, but “living and breathing beings,” and should not be traded commercially to be “decorating homes or to hang in art galleries”.


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