published Friday, December 6th, 2013

Judge approves auction of sacred Hopi masks

PARIS — A judge has ruled that the controversial sale of 32 Native American Hopi masks can go ahead next week.

The Hopi tribe had taken a Paris auction house to court Tuesday to try to block the sale, arguing that they are "bitterly opposed" to the use as commercial art of sacred masks that represent their ancestor's spirits.

Corinne Matouk, a lawyer who represented the Drouot auction house said the law was on their side.

"In French law there is nothing stopping the sale of Hopi artifacts."

Pierre Servan-Schreiber, the Hopi's French lawyer, said it is "very disappointing" and said he would explore options including seeking help from U.N. cultural organization UNESCO.

The "Katsinam" masks are being put on sale by a private collector on Dec. 9 and 11, alongside an altar from the Zuni tribe that used to belong to late Hollywood star Vincent Price, and other Native American frescoes and dolls.

The tribe has said it believes the masks, which date back to the late 19th and early 20th century, were taken from a northern Arizona reservation in the early 20th century.

In April, a Paris court ruled that such sales are legal, and Drouot sold off around 70 Hopi masks for some 880,000 euros ($1.2 million) despite vocal protests and criticism from actor Robert Redford and the U.S. government.

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