PARIS (AP) — The Native American Hopi tribe took a Paris auction house to court Tuesday to try to block the upcoming sale of 32 sacred tribal masks, arguing they are “bitterly opposed” to the use as merchandise of sacred objects that represent their ancestral spirits.
The Katsinam masks are scheduled for sale at the Drouot auction house 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.
Advocates for the Hopis argue that selling the sacred Katsinam masks as commercial art is illegal because the masks are like tombs and represent their ancestors’ spirits. The tribe nurtures and feed the masks as if they are the living dead. The objects are surreal faces made from wood, leather, horse hair and feathers and painted in vivid pigments of red, blue, yellow and orange.
In April, a Paris court ruled that such sales are legal in France, and Drouot sold off around 70 Hopi masks despite vocal protests and criticism from actor Robert Redford and the U.S. government. The U.S., unlike France, possesses laws which robustly protect indigenous peoples.