Leaders of several American Indian tribes were joined by representatives of the federal government Tuesday in calling for a halt to a planned auction of Native American objects and their repatriation.
In an emergency meeting at the National Museum of the American Indian, some dozen federal and Native American representatives condemned the auction at the Eve Auction House in Paris as illegal and in violation of international human rights laws. Among the 400 items in the auction catalogue are a warrior jacket made of human scalps and sacred items from the Hopi Tribe and Acoma Pueblo, including a shield that is estimated to sell for 7,000 euros.
"We call on France and the United States to forcefully act to stop the auction," said Kurt Riley, governor of the Pueblo of Acoma, who said the shield could not have been lawfully removed from the Pueblo's possession, making any sale of it illegal.
Riley began to weep as he thanked everyone gathered in the museum's atrium for supporting the cause.
"This is how much it hurts," he said. "This is how much it hurts my people, to see their cultural patrimony put on the Internet or go up for sale."
The Native American objections to the Eve Auction House and its art auctions go back several years. Various nations have filed lawsuits, and American embassy officials have tried to intervene. Nothing has worked. While the sale of human remains and sacred objects is against the law in the United States, the "reach of the laws … stops at our borders," museum director Kevin Glover said.
Bradley Marshall of the Hoopa Valley Tribal Council called the auction "deplorable" and said items are "living beings" that belong to their communities. "When we create objects we are in prayer, and a spirit goes into them," he said. "They are part of our families."
Congressman Steve Pearce of New Mexico has introduced a resolution calling for international collaboration to end the black market of cultural and sacred objects and Congressional hearings on the matter are planned, two developments that each Native American leader noted with gratitude.
Mark Taplin from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs described diplomatic efforts to prevent this and previous auctions. He said the United States' close partnership with France has not yielded positive results.
"These objects are of vital importance to tribal identify," he said. "(Their) commercialization … is fundamentally wrong."
D. Bambi Kraus, president of the National Association for Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, specifically pointed to the warrior jacket, saying someone might consider it a cultural artifact, "but in our world these are human remains." Unlike previous efforts, Kraus said this campaign has grown stronger and she is optimistic that an end will come. "They are beautiful objects," she said, "but they aren't meant to be sold."