Sacred Item Returned To Hopi
July 15, 2013
Audio Clip

Hopi Handover

Survival International
The Hopi Tribe exchanges gifts with Survival International and attorney Pierre Servan-Schreiber after he returned the sacred item he bought at the Paris auction.

One of the several dozen sacred items sold at auction in Paris last spring has been returned to the Hopi people. The tribe was vehemently opposed to the sale.

In April when lawyer Pierre Servan-Schreiber couldn’t convince a French judge to stop a Paris auction house from selling 70 Hopi sacred items, he bought one to return to the tribe. He paid 6,000 euros -- or about $7,800.

Museum of Northern Arizona director Robert Breunig said the ceremonial items are considered living beings. And they should have never been taken from the reservation in the first place.

"It would be like selling maybe one of your children," Breunig said. "And so they’re taken care of as something that’s alive. They’re fed. They’re loved. And you don’t sell something you love in that way."

So to have one returned home means a lot to Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa, who said he felt disheartened by the sale. While he’s grateful to have one back, Shingoitewa said the tribe couldn’t ask anyone to buy the items for them.

"If we were to ask someone to do that we are showing disrespect for our sacred objects that were auctioned," Shingoitewa said. "Their value to us in our mind is far more valuable than money could ever ever buy."

The family of the late French singer Joe Dassin bought a second katsina at the auction and plans to return it to the tribe later this year.