The planned sale of an Acoma tribal treasure Monday was canceled after a Paris auction house withdrew the item from bidding.
The EVE Auction House’s decision to cancel the sale of a shield used in Acoma religious ceremonies came after a week of intense lobbying by New Mexico’s Acoma tribe and high-level federal government officials, including Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
“It was withdrawn this morning pending further investigation,” Ann Berkley Rodgers, an Albuquerque-based attorney for the tribe, told the Journal on Monday.
Rodgers said she and tribal officials were delighted to see the religious artifact pulled from the auction. But she said the battle is not over.
“For Acoma, it is not going to be a victory until the shield is returned,” she said.
On Friday, Jewell wrote a letter to Catherine Chadelat, president of France’s auctions authority, the Council of Voluntary Sales, imploring the French government to step in and block the transaction.
“We have reason to believe that this object was stolen,” Jewell wrote. “I respectfully request that you prevent its sale and direct the Eve Auction House to work with the tribe on its repatriation.”
Jewell also asked the French official to help the U.S. government identify the American citizen who sold the artifact to the auction house “so that justice may be served.”
In response to a Journal inquiry Friday, the French Embassy in Washington said the government was investigating the issue and “giving it most serious consideration.”
“The French authorities have referred this matter to the Central Office for the Fight Against Trafficking of Cultural Property, and we are awaiting the results of their investigation,” embassy spokeswoman Emmanuelle Lachaussee said in an email. “In addition, the French Customs Service is in contact with its American counterpart in order to move forward with the necessary verifications.”
But she did not say whether the sale of the Acoma shield would be prevented. Rodgers and tribal officials were monitoring the auction online Monday morning when the auctioneer said that the item had been withdrawn from sale.
No further information was available.
The sale of tribal cultural items at the EVE Auction House has gone on for years, with collectors clamoring for ownership of rare Native American items. Monday’s auction featured hundreds of religious items and art pieces from the Americas, Africa and Asia.