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Sacred objects bought back for Hopi by US foundation

December 13, 2013
tags:#indigenous people, #United States of America
org:Survival International
Arizona’s Hopi people have welcomed the news that twenty-one of their sacred katsinam auctioned in Paris against their wishes have been bought by US-based Annenberg Foundation to return to them.

A private approach by Survival International to the auctioneers, and a court hearing brought by the Hopi and Survival, both failed to prevent the objects’ auction, to which the Hopi were deeply opposed. The US Embassy in Paris had also appealed for the katsinam to be withdrawn from sale.

In a statement released by the Annenberg Foundation, Gregory Annenberg Weingarten said, ‘These are not trophies to have on one’s mantel; they are truly sacred works for the Native Americans. It gives me immense satisfaction to know that they will be returned home to their rightful owners, the Native Americans.’

Sam Tenakhongva, a Hopi katsina priest, said in the Annenberg Foundation statement, ‘This is a great day for not only the Hopi people but for the international community as a whole. The Annenberg Foundation set an example today of how to do the right thing. 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.’

In the midst of the media frenzy surrounding the controversial auction, the Hopi issued an urgent appeal to national and international media not to show images of their sacred katsinam. Any public display of the katsinam, including in print, television or online, is considered deeply offensive and disrespectful to the Hopi.

In April this year, a similar auction went ahead after a legal challenge by Survival International and the Hopi failed. The lawyer who acted pro bono in both cases, Pierre Servan-Schreiber of Skadden, Arps, bought a katsina at the April auction and returned it to the tribe in the summer.

Actor Robert Redford, who had voiced outrage at the April auction, said today, ‘I am deeply troubled that the auction house EVE went ahead with its sale of Hopi sacred objects despite the pleas of the Hopi, the US Embassy, and Survival International. It is time the French Government consider intervention and prevents any future sales – as it is causing huge pain to the Hopi people. I am delighted that the Annenberg Foundation acted so honorably to buy these sacred objects in order to return them to the Hopi.’

Survival International Director Stephen Corry said today, ‘We’re delighted that these objects can be returned to their rightful owners through the generosity of the Annenberg Foundation. It’s clear to anyone who’s been involved in this case that their sale had caused the Hopi great distress. For us, the fundamental principle has always been that the Hopi should be treated with decency and respect.’