A lawyer has convinced a Paris judge to hold a hearing Thursday to determine the legality of a sale of sacred Hopi Indian artifacts by the Néret-Minet auction house that is scheduled for Friday.
By TOM MASHBERG
April 9, 2013, 5:36 pm in The New York Times
The lawyer from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, Pierre Servan-Schreiber, said he was acting in a pro bono capacity after having been contacted by Survival International, a global nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of native tribes.
Mr. Servan-Schreiber said he told the judge that the items should not be sold until it can be determined whether they were stolen from Hopi lands, as the Arizona-based tribe believes, or were the objects of sales that violated American and international law.
Efforts to look into the history of the 70 items, he said, would be rendered “virtually impossible” once they were scattered among multiple buyers. He said a delay would “preserve evidence.”
Mr. Servan-Schreiber also argued that the sale is illegal under an old prohibition in French law that bars the sale of “non-commercial” things that are seen as “immoral to sell.” The Hopis say the artifacts, ceremonial masks and headdresses known as Katsinam, or “friends,” embody divine spirits and are purely religious. They say selling them is a sacrilege.
A spokeswoman for the auction house said it was aware of the ruling but she would not comment further. Gilles Néret-Minet, the director of the house, has said repeatedly that he will not delay the $1 million sale. He has said the collector who put the items up for sale obtained them all legally.
The United States Embassy in Paris has also asked the auctioneers to delay the sale “given the ancestry of these masks and the distance between Paris and the Hopi reservation.”