28 May 2015

Stop the illegal sale of sacred Hopi artifacts by EVE auction house in Paris on June 1, 2015!

Editor’s note: We are publishing a letter co-signed by a group of dedicated scholars and museum directors who are outraged that the French government is allowing for the sixth time in over a year the illegal sale of sacred Hopi artifacts through an auction house called EVE. The sale is slated for June 1, 2015. A seventh sale is slated for June 10, 2015. The Conseil des Ventes Volontaires (Council of Voluntary Sales) is a regulatory body which oversees the French auction market. In past attempts to stop these sales, the CVV defiantly noted that the history of ownership or provenance of the objects is merely optional and, more importantly, the Hopi or any other indigenous group or tribe has no legal standing in France to assert a claim of ownership on their objects which, oftentimes, reach the market illicitly.

In the case of these Hopi artifacts referred to as “friends” by their rightful owners, the Hopi, these objects are entering the French market after circulating through a semi-clandestine black market in the United States populated by thieves and established dealers from the Southwest to the hallowed streets of Manhattan in New York City. Under the very nose of the FBI, the Department of State, and the Department of Homeland Security, these ill-gotten objects have left US territory for one reason and one reason only: they cannot be sold legally in the US and the French are more than happy to welcome them so that they can be sold off to a predominately ignorant public despite a permanent cloud on their title.

In order to stop the June 1, 2015, of the claimed objects, a letter is being sent to François Hollande, President of France.]

May 27, 2015

The Honorable François Hollande

Président de la République Française

Palais de l’Elysée

55, rue du faubourg Saint-Honoré

75006 Paris




Mr. President Hollande,

We, the undersigned, are the directors or leaders of several large U.S. institutions with significant collections and interests in Native American art and culture. Collectively, our staffs consist of leading scholars in the field of Native American studies who have significant and long-standing expertise and knowledge of the culture of Native American groups in the Southwest United States, including the Hopi Tribe and the New Mexico Pueblo tribes. Over the past 3 years, we have been appalled by the continued willingness of auction houses in Paris, and in particular the EVE auction house, to proceed with sales which include items described by the Hopi Tribe as “katsina friends,” and that the auction houses have offensively described as “masques katsinam.”

Several of us have, on prior occasions, requested that these auction houses withdraw the katsina friends from sale and that these sacred, communally owned objects be promptly returned to the Hopi and other Pueblo tribes who are their rightful owners. As we have explained in the past, the katsina friends are communal property and cannot be sold by any tribal individual. Furthermore, while katsina friends can be held and cared for by individuals, they belong to the communities from which they come and are cared for by specific ceremonial societies or clans. Under both tribal custom and tribal, state and federal law, they cannot be sold or given away by any individual. As a result, they cannot be legitimately privately owned by individual collectors or institutions, as legal title under tribal, state and federal law could never pass to anyone other than the applicable tribe. Thus, the sale of such items constitutes the sale of stolen property, which is obviously legally prohibited, both in the United States and around the world. While the Hopi Tribe first enacted statutes specifically prohibiting the sale of katsina friends and other communal religious objects in the 1970s, the Hopi and other tribes have openly and notoriously prohibited such sales by communal law and custom since the first contact with non-Natives in the Southwest.

Today, the sale of such objects violates various federal, state and tribal statutes that protect the United States’ cultural resources and tribal property, and prohibit trafficking in stolen goods and various species of birds. In addition to these laws, U.S. case law has clearly established that buying or selling katsina friends is a crime under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (“NAGPRA”). EVE auction house’s statements that NAGPRA does not have criminal prohibitions on the trafficking in katsina friends or in other NAGPRA defined sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony are a blatant and offensive misstatement of U.S. law.

As such, we are shocked to hear that the EVE auction house has, yet again, scheduled another sale that includes the illegal sale of several katsina friends for June 1, 2015 in Paris.

As we have indicated on prior occasions, we can reasonably assert that the proposed sale of these katsina friends, and the international exposure of them, is not only illegal, but is causing and will continue to cause significant outrage, sadness and distress among members the affected tribes. For them, katsina friends are living beings, which is why they are called “friends” (kwatsi) in the Hopi language. The friends are loved, cared for, and ceremonially fed. They are a connection between the human world and the spirits of all living things and the ancestors. To be displayed disembodied in an auction catalogue and on the internet is sacrilegious and offensive. If one claims to value these katsina friends as “works of art”, one must also respect the people who made them and the native traditions that govern their ownership and use. As fellow human beings, it is our hope that you will offer understanding and empathy to the tribal people who are so deeply damaged and affected by this proposed sale. You cannot honor and value these katsina friends while dishonoring their rightful owners. These are universal principles of cross-cultural human conduct which France has continuously endorsed throughout World history.

Furthermore, we are highly concerned to have learned that, twice already, the Hopi Tribe and their representatives have attempted to suspend prior auction sales in Paris through a body controlled by your government, called the “Conseil des Ventes Volontaires (or “CVV”), which has the power to suspend auction sales or to force the withdrawal of certain objects from a sale where sufficient doubt exists on the provenance of these objects. We were especially appalled to learn that, twice, the CVV refused to withdraw katsina friends in prior proceedings by holding the incomprehensible position that neither the Hopi Tribe, nor individual Hopi tribal members, had any legal standing to challenge these sales. This grotesque jurisprudence flies in the face of the long-standing recognition of Native American tribal sovereignty and the fact that U.S. law clearly establishes that federally recognized Indian Tribes have the power to sue in any number of matters. The Hopi Tribe is an ancient culture — with more than 14,117 enrolled members today — that has remained steadfast to its culture, language, heritage and spirituality. It is also a sovereign nation federally recognized by the U.S. government and should be treated accordingly.

Additionally, we are quite troubled by the lack of legal equity and apparent prejudice that the French legal system opposes against American parties, such as Indian Tribes, while at the same time, French museum institutions are the first ones to seek and successfully obtain the leverage of the American legal system when they are plaintiffs in claims involving cultural property stolen in France and subsequently transferred to the United States.

On behalf of the undersigned museums, we request your official intervention to stop the June 1 auction of the katsina friends, and do everything in your power to obtain their swift and prompt restitution to the Hopi people.


Robert Breunig, Ph.D.
The Museum of Northern Arizona

John Bulla
Interim Director & CEO
Heard Museum

Janice Klein
Executive Director
Museum Association of Arizona

Jonathan Batkin
The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian

Michael F. Brown
School for Advanced Research

Christoph Heinrich, Ph.D.
Denver Art Museum

Cc: Gérard Araud
Ambassador of France to the United States
The Embassy of France to the United States
4101 Reservoir Road, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20007
By e-mail: Gerard.araud@diplomatie.gouv.fr

Cc: Cabinet de la Présidence de la République

M. Jean-Pierre Jouyet
Secrétaire général
By e-mail: jean-pierre.jouyet@elysee.fr

M. Thierry Lataste
Directeur de cabinet
By e-mail: thierry.lataste@elysee.fr

M. Jacques Audibert
Conseiller diplomatique
By e-mail: jacques.audibert@elysee.fr

Mme Audrey Azoulay
Conseillère Culture et communication
By e-mail: Audrey.Azoulay@elysee.fr

Mme Françoise Tomé
Conseillère Justice
By e-mail: francoise.tomé@elysee.fr

M. Adrien Abecassis
Conseiller Affaires Bilatérales
Cellule Diplomatique
By e-mail: Adrien.abecassis@elysee.fr

Christiane Taubira
Garde des Sceaux, Ministre de la Justice
13, Place Vendôme
75042 Paris Cedex 01 FRANCE
Fax : (011) 33-1-44-77-60-02
By e-mail: Christiane.Taubira@justice.gouv.fr

Anne Berriat
Directrice adjointe de cabinet
By e-mail: Anne.Berriat@justice.gouv.fr

Carle Deveille-Fontinha
Conseillère Diplomatique
By e-mail: Carla.deveille-fontinha@justice.gouv.fr

Fleur Pellerin
Ministre de la Culture et de la Communication
3, rue de Valois
75001 Paris FRANCE
BY e-mail: Fleur.Pellerin@culture.gouv.fr
Fax: (011) 33-1-40-15-85-30

Fabrice Bakhouche
Directeur de cabinet
By e-mail: fabrice.bahouche@culture.gouv.fr

Laurent Fabius
Ministre des Affaires étrangères et du Développement international
37 Quai d’Orsay
75007 Paris FRANCE
Fax : (011) 33-1-43-17-40-94
By e-mail: Laurent.Fabius@diplomatie.gouv.fr

Alexandre Ziegler
Directeur de cabinet
By e-mail: Alexandre.Ziegler@diplomatie.gouv.fr

M. Benoît Guidée
Conseiller des affaires étrangères, Asie, Amérique
By e-mail: benoit.guidee@diplomatie.gouv.fr

Catherine Chadelat
Conseillère d’Etat
Conseil des Ventes Volontaires
19 Avenue de l'opéra
75001 PARIS, France
By e-mail : c.chadelat@conseildesventes.fr
Par Fax: 01-53-45-89-20

Cc: John McCain
U.S. Senator for the State of Arizona
U.S. Senate
241 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-2235
Fax: (202) 228-2862

Jeff Flake
U.S. Senator for the State of Arizona
U.S. Senate
Senate Russell Office Building 368
Washington, D.C. 20510
Phone: 202-224-4521
Fax: 202-228-0515

Ann Kirkpatrick
U.S. Representative, Arizona First District
U.S. House of Representatives
201 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: 202-225-3361
Fax: 202-225-3462

Raoul Grijalva
U.S. Representative Arizona Third District
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. Office
1511 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-2435
Fax: (202) 225-1541

Paul Gosar
U.S. Representative, Arizona Fourth District
U.S. House of Representatives
504 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-2315

Matt Salmon
U.S. Representative, Arizona Fifth District
U.S. House of Representatives
2349 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-2635
Fax: (202) 226-4386

David Schweikert
U.S. Representative, Arizona Sixth District
U.S. House of Representatives
1205 Longworth House Office Building
Washington DC, 20515
Phone: (202) 225-2190
Fax: (202) 225-0096

Trent Franks
U.S. Representative, Arizona Eighth District
U.S. House of Representatives
2435 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-4576
Fax: (202) 225-6328

Krysten Sinema
U.S. Representative, Arizona Ninth District
U.S. House of Representatives
1237 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: 202-225-9888

Cc : Her Excellency, Jane D. Hartley
U.S. Ambassador to the French Republic and to the Principality of Monaco
U.S. Embassy in France
2 avenue Gabriel
75382 Paris Cedex 08, France
Fax: (011) 33-1-42669783
By e-mail: HartleyDJ@state.gov

The Honorable Loretta Lynch
Attorney General
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001 U.S.A.
By e-mail: loretta.lynch@usdoj.gov

The Honorable James B. Comey
Federal Bureau of Investigation
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20535-0001 U.S.A.

Sally Jewell
Secretary of the Interior
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington DC 20240 U.S.A.
By e-mail: sally_jewell@ios.doi.gov, sallyjewell@ios.doi.gov, sally.jewell@ios.doi.gov,

Herman G. Honanie
Hopi Tribal Council
Fax: (928) 734-6665
By email: hopicouncil@hopi.nsn.us
P.O. Box 123
Kykotsmovi, AZ 86039
By e-mail: HeHonanie@hopi.nsn.us

Cc: Ori Z. Soltes
Holocaust Art Restitution Project, Inc.
c/o 5114 Westridge Road
Bethesda, MD 20816-1623
By e-mail: orisoltes@gmail.com

Pierre Ciric, Esq.
Member of the Firm
The Ciric Law Firm, PLLC
17A Stuyvesant Oval
New York, NY 10009
By e-mail: pciric@ciriclawfirm.com