On Thursday, April 11, a judge in Paris will hear arguments from a lawyer regarding the legality of a large auction of Hopi katsinam.
The auction of ceremonial items, commonly referred to as "masks," to be conducted by the Parisian auction house Néret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou, is scheduled for Friday. The Hopi have protested that the items are sacred and should be repatriated, but the auction house has rejected such appeals.
"I will not cede to pressure, unless it goes through the judicial system," auctioneer Gilles Neret-Minet stated in an interview with ICTMN. "My lawyers told me that I do not have to give back these collections."
For the Hopi, with help from an international group that looks out for the rights of Indigenous peoples, the time has come to fight lawyers with lawyers.
Lawyers for Survival International filed a motion for a hearing on the matter, which was granted. The group has secured the pro-bono services of lawyer Pierre Servan-Schreiber of the firm Skadden, Arps, who will make the case against the auction to a Parisian judge at 10:00 AM Paris time tomorrow, which is 4:00 AM on the east coast of Turtle Island.
Néret-Minet indicated that his auction is completely legal, and laws such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) have no bearing on a French business transaction. But according to a New York Times article, Servan-Schreiber may cite "an old prohibition in French law that bars the sale of 'non-commercial' things that are seen as 'immoral to sell.'"
Additionally, the U.S. Embassy in Paris has asked Néret-Minet to postpone the auction. "Given the ancestry of these masks and the distance between Paris and the Hopi reservation, requesting a delay seems reasonable to allow for a complete examination of the situation," the embassy’s cultural affairs minister, Philip J. Breeden, wrote, according to the New York Times.