The chairman of the Hopi tribe, a group of Native Americans based in Arizona, is taking the Conseil des Ventes (CVV), a regulatory body that oversees auctions in France, to court after it approved a sale of sacred Hopi objects at Drouot, Paris, in December 2014.
Herman Honanie, the chairman of the Hopi Tribal Council, has launched the legal case in partnership with the Holocaust Art Restitution Project (Harp), a Washington DC-based non-profit group focused on the restitution of looted artefacts.
The disputed auction of Native American items went ahead at the Drouot saleroom on 15 December after a court hearing in Paris on 11 December failed to suspend the sale. In a statement, Harp said: “The [CVV] allowed the sale to proceed after [this] hearing… rejecting the arguments put forth by Harp and the Hopi tribe that title had never vested with subsequent possessors due to the sacred nature of these objects.”
The 275-lot sale, organised by Eve auction house, included at least 50 Hopi artefacts, totalling €952,000. A Kachina figure with a stepped headdress (1920) sold for €10,000 (est €10,000-€12,000).
Harp also tried to block a sale of Hopi objects at Drouot in June 2014. “The CVV held that the Hopi tribe, in fact any [Native American] tribe, has no legal existence or standing as a group or as a recognised nation to pursue any cultural claim in France,” says Ori Soltes, the chairman of Harp.
Ariane Chausson, a spokeswoman for the CVV, rejected Harp’s claims and the current lawsuit, saying that the sale was in accordance with French law. She maintains also that the Hopi tribe and the chairman have no legal standing. “There is no evidence that the tribe is a legal entity,” she says.