Sacred Hopi objects sold off in Paris, leaders not happy

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Hopi Katsina doll. Tribe says these are meant for public viewing, but not the objects up for auction. Hopi Katsina doll. Tribe says these are meant for public viewing, but not the objects up for auction.
(Source: KPHO-TV) (Source: KPHO-TV)
(Source: KPHO-TV) (Source: KPHO-TV)
(Source: KPHO-TV) (Source: KPHO-TV)

Sacred Hopi Indian objects have been sold at an auction in Paris, and the northern Arizona tribe isn't happy about it.

The Hopi tribe tried to stop the auction and get their pieces back. A Paris court authorized the sale to go ahead despite an appeal for a delay by the Hopi tribe and the U.S. government.

There are thousands of Native American objects inside the Heard Museum. Hopi Katsina dolls, pottery and dwellings are on display. But there are some objects that are culturally forbidden to showcase.

"In the eyes of our people, they are very valuable because they're central to the way that we worship," said Hopi Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa.  

Out of respect for the tribe, CBS 5 News won't show the objects or describe them because they're considered sacred. Shingoitewa says about 90 pieces showed up in a public online catalogue for the Neret-Minet, Tessier and Sarrou auction, which happened Friday. Starting bids of the pieces were between 2,000 and 20,000 Euros.

The Drouot auction house said that of the 70 masks up for sale, one was bought by an association to give back to the Hopis. The most expensive up for auction, the "Mother Crow" mask, sold for $209,000, more than three times the pre-sale estimate. As the "Mother Crow" mask sold Friday, a protester shouted "these are sacred beings!"

The Hopi tribe says the masks are not art and represent their dead ancestors' spirits.

"It was hurtful for our people to see them displayed so openly," he said.

The Hopi leader sent a letter to the auctioneers asking them to postpone the auction so they could find out how they got them.

"At this time, our investigation shows at least one of these is stolen," Shingoitewa said.

He says a lot of questions need to be answered because only certain tribe members are authorized to take care of them.

"Someone asked me, ‘Will the Hopi people just go buy those sacred objects back?' That is not the way we believe in doing it because the sacred objects do not have a price to it," he said.

The chairman says he has not heard back from the auctioneers despite several attempts to get a response.

Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.