Hopi Tribe Makes Another Attempt At Halting French Auction

Jun 9, 2015

Several Hopi artifacts are on the auction block in France. A Paris auction house is scheduled to sell the items on Wednesday, despite criticism from the Hopi Tribe and the U.S. Government. Tribal leaders argue the artifacts belong to them, and demand their return. Arizona Public Radio’s Aaron Granillo spoke with Hopi Chairman Herman Honanie about the tribe’s latest attempt to halt tomorrow’s auction.

Hopi Tribe Chairman Herman Honanie

Aaron Granillo: Chairman Honanie, can you bring us up to speed? What is the issue, and what is the Hopi Tribe trying to accomplish? 

Hopi Tribe Chairman Herman Honanie: The issue right now is that there is an auction this is scheduled again. I believe it's the third or fourth auction that the firm in Paris planning on Wednesday this week. And, they are including various sacred objects that clearly belong to Hopi. We are trying to put a stop to the auction, particularly put a stop to the auction of these sacred items that belong to Hopi. We are of the position that these type of artifacts, sacred objects, should never be sold or auctioned off anywhere.

And the Hopi have been gaining a lot of support in your fight. Arizona's congressional delegation is backing you up. You have support from several other tribes. What is the latest in your attempt, this time around, to stop this French auction house from selling these sacred artifacts?

We now have a representative from Hopi traveling to France to hopefully meet with officials of the auction house. So, I'm hoping and I'm trying to be as optimistic as I can be that hopefully a meeting will actually take place with officials there and our representative and hopefully there can be a meeting of the minds, so where the most positive of results can be the outcome.

Do you know how these artifacts - they're known as Kachina Friends - ended up in the hands of this auction house? Was it a black market sale? Were they stolen? How did they end up over there? 

I think it's both. Obviously the taking and the possession of these sacred items had to be initiated or start on the reservation in some form. Whether through it being stolen or purchased illegally. And eventually made their way overseas and in the case of going into France. Then there comes this point that even though we have registered our objections and filed in the French court, our appeals have simply been put to the wayside simply because we are not recognized as citizens in any kind of holding or standing within the French laws. So that's basically what we're up against.

We know that these artifacts are sacred to the Hopi people. You don't even want photos of them posted online. Is there anything you're comfortable sharing with us about their significance to the Hopi people?

Well the significance is that they are tied to our rituals or ceremonies. It's quite hard to articulate what it means to us, but that they are and they have been identified as belonging to Hopi. They are ceremonial objects and are very sacred. Thus, they should not be in anyone else's possession but Hopi.

What is the ultimate outcome here? What's the best case scenario for you and the Hopi people?

The best outcome would be is if this meeting could take place. And if, in effect, if we can be able to convince and persuade the auctioneers and everyone else these items belong to Hopi. They are sacred. They mean what they mean to us. This representative from Hopi is there in hopes of having these items given up to him so that he can bring them home. That is the ultimate desire. To have him take possession and bring the items back home. And if that happens, we would accomplish our mission.