Smithsonian Museum Holds Emergency Meeting to Halt Parisian Auction of Native American Artifacts

According to Allison Meier in Hyperallergic, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian yesterday hosted an emergency meeting of tribal leaders, US government representatives, and NGO officials to call for a halt to an auction set to take place next Monday in Paris that includes human remains and sacred indigenous objects among its lots. The sale scheduled for May 30 was organized by the EVE auction house at Drouot Richelieu.

Governor Kurt Riley of the Pueblo of Acoma said at the meeting, “The whole world condemns the destruction of Palmyra by ISIS, the National Geographic cover story this month is about tomb raiders, and just as these things are happening worldwide, they are also happening in the United States with regards to the plundering of native cultures.” Riley pointed out an Acoma shield that’s to be included in the auction as a “sacred item which no individual can own” and would never have been sold, adding “how it left the pueblo we don’t know…However, its mere existence and presence outside of the pueblo tells us that an event occurred that violated Acoma law.”

Bradley Marshall of the Hoopa Valley Tribe in California also spoke, explaining that when “these objects are created for spiritual use within our community, a spirit goes into them. These objects are living beings to us, these objects are a part of our family, these objects are a part of who we are as a community.” A ceremonial deer from the Hoopa is also listed in the auction. The president of the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, D. Bambi Kraus, protested against the selling of a warrior jacket that is purportedly made of human scalps, saying “in our world, if that’s human remains, you cannot sell human remains.”

Congressman Steve Pearce of New Mexico was in attendance to discuss the House Concurrent Resolution 122, which he introduced to congress and which asks the Government Accountability Office to “determine the scope of illegal trafficking in tribal cultural items and identify steps required to end such trafficking.” He called on governmental departments at the meeting “to consult with tribes and traditional Native American religious leaders in addressing this issue, to take affirmative action to stop these practices, and to secure repatriation of tribal cultural items.”

EVE’s Alain Leroy has stated that “all the items proposed are of legal trade in the US and in France,” adding “the public auction process allows the different tribes to acquire their past, and that is exactly what some tribes prefer to do, seeking efficiency and discretion.”