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Dec 20 2013

Guiding the Spirits Home

Secret Bids Guide Hopi Indians’ Spirits Home

By Thomas Mashberg, New York Times

The auction in Paris was set to move briskly, at about two items a minute; the room was hot and crowded, buzzing with reporters.

More than 100 American Indian artifacts were about to go on sale at the Drouot auction house, including 24 pieces, resembling masks, that are held sacred by the Hopi of Arizona. The tribe, United States officials and others had tried unsuccessfully to block the sale in a French court, arguing that the items were religious objects that had been stolen many years ago.

Now the Annenberg Foundation decided to get involved from its offices in Los Angeles. It hoped to buy all of the Hopi artifacts, plus three more sought by the San Carlos Apaches, at the Dec. 9 sale and return them to the tribes. To prevent prices from rising, the foundation kept its plan a secret, even from the Hopis, in part to protect the tribe from potential disappointment. Given the nine-hour time difference, the foundation put together a team that could work well into the night, bidding by phone in the auction in France.

The foundation had never done something like this before – a repatriation effort – and the logistics were tricky, to say the least.

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