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Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
9:35 AM Wed, Nov. 21st

Editorial: Auction of Indian artifacts good, bad

"Stop Cultural Genocide!" That's what was lettered on a sign someone was carrying Monday at the contested auction of tribal artifacts in Paris.

The Native American Navajo tribe won its bid to buy back seven sacred masks at the auction, which netted over a million dollars. The objects for sale at the Drouot auction house included religious masks, colored in pigment, that are believed to have been used in Navajo wintertime healing ceremonies, according to the Associated Press.

Initial reaction is one of happiness for the Navajos, whose reservation sprawls across much of northeastern Arizona. The realization, however, is that these artifacts are akin to those stolen from Jews by the Nazis during World War II.

When property that belonged to people who were Jewish has been found, in most cases, it has been returned - not allowed to be sold or re-sold. Sadly, the Navajos - one of many Native American tribes that were wrongly relocated and whose members suffered from death marches - were not afforded the same respect.

The sale went ahead despite efforts to halt it by the U.S. government and members of the Arizona Congressional delegation. In a letter signed by Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake and Arizona's representatives stated: "In previous years, the Hopi Tribe has tried without success to halt the sale of similar artifacts. ... According to tribal tradition, displaying and selling these items is sacrilegious and offensive, and the Hopi Tribe has requested a halt to these auctions and repatriation of the items to the tribe."

Simply put: Indians continue to be victimized.

Our elected officials also were clear on another point: "We desire no action to be taken on this matter which would be inconsistent with existing rules, regulations or guidelines, or that could possibly be construed as unfair or inappropriate."

Fairness and respect for Native Americans is lacking, thankfully though not as much here at home; maybe problems can become the exception.

Note that the Navajos bought back some items, and the letter from elected officials mentions the Hopis. The lawyer representing the absent Hopi tribe, Pierre Servan-Schreiber, said the approaches of the Hopi and the Navajo were different. "Hopis were opposed to buying back their artifacts as they did not want to engage in the auction," he said.

That is a regrettable situation as well. Navajo Nation spokesman Deswood Tome said, "Buying these masks here today is a precedent that we've set."

Hopefully the Hopi artifacts are not lost.