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Controversy over auction of Native American masks in France

The sale of the Hopi masks is due to take place at Hotel Drouot.
The sale of the Hopi masks is due to take place at Hotel Drouot. DR

An advocacy group is taking legal action in an attempt to stop the sale of masks originating from the Hopi tribe, an indigenous group in the United States.

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Survival International, an NGO for tribal people, said the court hearing in Paris will take place on 9th December, then day when Alain Leroy of auctioneers EVE is due to begin a two-day sale of around 25 Hopi objects at the auction venue Hotel Drouot.

The objects, known as katsinam, include masks and headdresses that the Hopi people say are blessed with divine spirits.

The tribe considers any public display of the katsinam, including in the media, to be offensive.

A mask adorned with raven feathers is expected to fetch between 60,000 and 80,000 euros.

"It's a matter of enormous regret that another auction house seems prepared to defy public opinion and the feelings of the Hopi, who are these objects' rightful owners," Survival International director Stephen Corry said.

In April, French firm Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou ignored international appeals to halt the sale of some 70 katsinam.

Survival International also tried to stop that sale, but a French court gave it the go-ahead after ruling the sale did not violate the law, even if the objects were considered sacred.

That auction eventually fetched around 930,000 euros.

The Hopi people number around 18,000 and live primarily in north-eastern Arizona in the United States.

The sale of sacred Indian artifacts has been outlawed in the United States since 1990, but the law does not extend to sales overseas.

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