Hopi Outraged Over Auction Of Religious Items

April 03, 2013

Craig Smith and the Heard Museum
Hopi Katsina friend

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- A Paris auction house plans to sell 70 sacred Native American artifacts. The northern Arizona Hopi Tribe is outraged and wants them back.

The Hopi call them Katsina friends and they are treated as such. The Hopi people use them in ceremonies and dances to call upon the spirits to bring them rainfall, healing and protection.

"Annually the Hopi people petition the spirit beings that are personified through Katsina to come to the Hopi villages," said Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, director of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office.

Kuwanwisiwma said they are not pieces of art, so they cannot be sold.

"So to see the art market driving this kind of behavior, it’s not just distressful to the Hopi people, it’s a hurt that I don’t believe people can really understand," Kuwanwisiwma said.

Two Arizona museums have asked the auction house to cancel its sale.

"It just goes to show in our complex cross-cultural world different people see things in very different ways and this often times causes conflict and in this case it causes sadness and outrage," said Robert Breunig, director of the Museum of Northern Arizona.

In Breunig’s letter to the auction house he asked that the items be returned to the tribe. The Paris auction house has displayed the items on its website for its upcoming sale April 12.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been modified to reflect the date of the Paris auction is April 12.