Officials from the Navajo Nation have been able to reclaim seven sacred masks that were up for auction in Paris.
A delegation led by Navajo Nation Vice-President Rex Lee Jim traveled to Paris, hoping to acquire the masks from the Drouot auction house. Jim says they don’t know how the masks came to be for sale at the auction. The US ambassador to France urged the auction house to delay the sale until the delegation could see and authenticate them. Jim says they were able to do that on Saturday.
“To us, the Navajo people, they are living, breathing beings," Jim tells KUER. "They are gods, and we speak to them as I’m talking to you. And when we saw the masks, and offered up prayers, that’s what we did. We talked to them and said, ‘We are here.’”
In spite of their significance, selling Native American artifacts is legal in France. So Jim says the tribe bid on the masks and wound up buying all seven for about seven thousand dollars.
The delegation will return to the United States this week. Jim says the masks will be ceremonially cleansed by Navajo medicine people over the coming year and then put back to their intended use as part of wintertime healing rituals.