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Hopi Tribe, lawmakers urge US to stop sale of sacred items

PHOENIX — Hopi tribal leaders and Arizona congressmen are asking the federal government for help in preventing the sale of sacred Hopi items at a Paris auction house in June.

The Hopi Tribe views selling the religious items as sacrilegious and offensive. They resemble masks and are used during religious ceremonies and dances to invoke ancestral spirits. They are communally owned, rarely displayed and never supposed to leave the reservation.

This is the sixth time that the French auction house, Estimations Ventes aux Encheres, has sold objects sacred to Native American tribes. It has argued that the items legally belong to collectors and a Paris court has ruled that such sales are legal.

Arizona Reps. Paul Gosar and David Schweikert were expected to join Hopi Chairman Herman Honanie on Wednesday to ask the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI to prevent about a dozen items from going to the auction block on June 1.

Hopi tribal leaders contend the auction house is illegally selling the spiritual objects, known as Katsina Friends, and urge the federal agencies to help recover them.

“We need to bring all our Katsina Friends home to their rightful place on the Hopi lands. Hopi is absolute in its stance that these auctions must cease,” Honanie said.

The Hopi Tribe has tried to prevent the sale of the objects since 2013. The tribe has sued three times in French court, but judges have dismissed the lawsuits because France lacks laws to protect indigenous people, unlike the U.S.

In April 2013, a Paris court cleared the way for the sale of about 70 masks for some $1.2 million, despite protests and criticism from the U.S. government.

The Annenberg Foundation, a family-run charity, bought more than 20 Hopi and Apache items and returned them to their tribal homes in December 2013.

The Hopi Tribe has also appealed to a French board regulating auctions, but the board has denied them legal standing. The tribe plans to file another appeal to suspend the auction.