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France court allows sale of Native American artifacts

A French court on Friday allowed the sale of 70 ancient Native American artifacts, primarily originating from Arizona's Hopi Tribe [official website], despite appeals for delay to better determine the legal status of the items. The artifacts include painted masks and headdresses that are said to be sacred among the Hopi tribe. Historians, along with many Hopi tribe members, believe that the items were illegally obtained, though the auction house insists that they were purchased legally over decades by a US collector. An additional last-minute appeal was made to Council of Sales, the regulator for the French auction market, but they declined to intervene. After the ruling, the action house, Neret-Minet [website], proceeded to organize what is to be one of the largest sales of Hopi artifacts, and is expected to bring in an estimated $1 million.

Courts continue to grapple with many Native American legal issues, in addition to the repatriation of artifacts. In June 2009, US authorities charged 24 individuals with looting Native American artifacts [JURIST report] from public land in violation of the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (ARPA) [text, PDF] and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) [text] in connection with the theft of 256 artifacts worth $335,685.

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