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  • A Puebloan Kachina Huhuwa mask and other Native American artifacts at a 2014 Paris auction.

    A Puebloan Kachina Huhuwa mask and other Native American artifacts at a 2014 Paris auction. | Photo: AFP

Published 25 May 2016

Two Native American tribes said an auction of sacred objects in Paris was illegal and insulting to their culture while being a reminder of slave auctions.

In an international battle stretching from Native American lands in the west of the United States to the auction houses of Paris, two tribes renewed a years-long campaign to prevent the sale of sacred objects on Tuesday.

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The Acoma Pueblo Nation of New Mexico and the Hoopa Valley Tribal Nation of California have announced their opposition to a scheduled sale next week of close to 500 artifacts at Paris' EVE auction house.

"This is not a work of art," Governor Kurt Riley of the Acoma Pueblo Nation told AFP, explaining how the Acoma view the objects up for sale.  "This is a religious item that is dear to us. And when it's gone, it's like a piece of ourselves goes missing."

Bradley Marshall, of the Hoopa Valley Tribal Council of California, noted that the auction reminded him of “the slave auctions that took place so long ago that we thought were past.”

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He further explained the cultural and religious sentimental value those objects carry for his community.

“When these objects have been created for ceremonies within our community, a spirit goes into them,” Marshall, told a press conference Tuesday.

“When we create the objects, we’re in prayer, we’re breathing life into the object. And so these objects are not just a mere object in some fancy collection. These objects are living beings to us. These objects are part of our family; these objects are part of who we are as a people; these objects have a sacred purpose within our community," Marshal added.

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The two nations want the sale stopped and the artifacts returned. The tribes have the support of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian and the U.S. departments of Interior and State.

"In the absence of clear documentation and clear consent of the tribes themselves, these objects should not be sold," Mark Taplin of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural affairs told a Tuesday press conference in Washington.

Taplin added that U.S. authorities have been talking with their French counterparts since the auctions began in 2013, "But I must say we are still awaiting a response from the French side."

Selling Native American artifacts in the United States is either highly restricted or illegal, depending on the objects and where they were recovered.

EVE house has yet to give a statement on the recent sale. However, ahead of a similar auction in 2013, the auction house had said “no American laws were violated” and carried on with the auction.

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