Museum of Northern Arizona director condemns Paris auction of Hopi and other Native ceremonial objects

The following post was taken from the Facebook page of the Museum of Northern Arizona. I thank Director Dr. Robert Breunig for granting me permission to repost his letters (English and French versions) on BeyondtheMesas.com. Please distribute widely.

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Museum of Northern Arizona Facebook page:

An auction house in Paris, France, Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou, plans to auction off 70 ceremonial katsina friends, improperly translated into English as “masks,” on April 12. Below is an open letter in both English and French to the auction house, in which Museum of Northern Arizona Director Dr. Robert Breunig voices his condemnation of this planned sale of significant religious objects, adding MNA to the public opposition to this sale by the Hopi and Zuni tribal members, the Heard Museum, and many individuals.

______________________________________________
March 29, 2013

Étude Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou
Commissaires-Priseurs
8, Rue Saint-Marc
75002 Paris FRANCE

To the Directors,

I am the director of the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, Arizona. If the name of the museum is familiar to you, it is because this museum was founded by Harold S. Colton, my predecessor and the author of “Hopi Kachina Dolls,” the book you have cited as an authoritative source in the listing of 70 Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, and Jemez “masques katsinam,” properly called “katsina friends” and advertised for an auction by your firm on April 12, 2013.

I am writing to request that you cancel this auction, withdraw the katsina friends from sale, and that they be returned by the “owner” to the Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, and Jemez people. I have placed quotation marks around the word “owner,” because no one can “own” them but the Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, and Jemez people. Although katsina friends can be held and cared for by individuals, they belong to the communities from which they come or to specific ceremonial societies. Under tribal custom and law they cannot be sold or given away by an individual.

I can tell you from personal knowledge that the proposed sale of these katsina friends, and the international exposure of them, is causing outrage, sadness, and stress among members of the affected tribes. For them katsina friends are living beings; that is why they are called “friends” (kwatsi) in the Hopi language. The friends are loved, cared for, and ceremonially fed. They are a connection between the human world and the spirits of all living things and the ancestors. To be displayed disembodied in your catalogue and on the internet is sacrilegious and offensive. If one claims to value these katsina friends as “works of art,” one must also respect the people who made them and the native traditions that govern their use. And, as fellow human beings, it is my hope that you will offer understanding and empathy to the tribal people who are so deeply affected by this proposed sale. You cannot honor and value these katsina friends while dishonoring their makers. These are universal principles of cross-cultural human conduct.

On behalf of the Museum of Northern Arizona, I appeal to your sense of decency and humanity, and request that you terminate the auction and send these katsina friends to their proper homes among the native people in Arizona and New Mexico.

Sincerely,
Robert G. Breunig, Ph.D.
Director, Museum of Northern Arizona

_______________________________________________
Ce 29 mars 2013, Flagstaff

Étude Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou
Commissaires-Priseurs
8, Rue Saint-Marc
75002 Paris FRANCE

Messieurs les Directeurs:

C’est dans ma capacité de Directeur du Museum of Northern Arizona (Flagstaff, Arizona, États-Unis) que je me permets de vous contacter. Le nom de notre musée vous est connu : son fondateur, mon prédécesseur Harold S. Colton, fut l’auteur du livre Hopi Kachina Dolls que vous citez comme source d’autorité dans votre catalogue de 70 “masques katsinam” – plus correctement nommés des amis katsinam – présentés pour une vente aux enchères de votre établissement, prévue pour ce 12 avril 2013.

Je vous écris pour demander dès aujourd’hui l’annulation de cette vente ; le retrait desdits amis katsinam de toute vente présente ou future ; et surtout, que ceux-ci puissent être restitués aux peuples Hopi, Zuni, Acoma et Jemez par leur « propriétaire ». Si je mets entre guillemets ce dernier, c’est que nul ne peut être en « possession » des amis katsinam, à part les peuple Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, et Jemez dont ils proviennent. Je tiens par ailleurs à vous assurer par ma propre expérience récente et personnelle, que cette vente annoncée des amis katsinam, ainsi que leur exposition publique et internationale, est source d’outrage, tristesse et angoisse – profonds et réels – parmi les membres des tribus concernées. Pour eux, les amis katsinam sont des êtres vivants : raison pour laquelle la langue Hopi les dénomme « amis » (kwatsi). Les kwatsi sont aimés, chéris, nourris de façon rituelle. Ils incarnent le lien entre le monde humain, les esprits de tout ce qui vit, et les ancêtres. Se trouver ainsi exposés – désincarnés – dans votre catalogue et sur Internet, est une offense profonde, un sacrilège. Si les amis katsina peuvent être soignés et tenus entre mains humaines, ils appartiennent seules aux communautés dont ils sont issus, spécifiquement à leurs sociétés cérémonielles. Par coutume et par loi tribale, leur vente, donation ou dation par qui que ce soit, est proscrite.

Quiconque prétend estimer ces amis katsina comme « œuvres d’art » se doit en parallèle de respecter les peuples qui les ont crées, et les traditions amérindiennes qui gouvernent leur utilisation. Aussi, sur un plan purement humain, devriez-vous étendre votre compréhension, voire votre empathie, envers les peuples tribaux si profondément affectés par cette vente dont vous êtes l’organisateur. On ne peut apprécier et estimer ces amis katsina tout en déshonorant leurs créateurs. Il s’agit de principes universels, et d’une conduite humaine digne de ce nom…

Au nom du Museum of Northern Arizona, je fais appel à votre sens de décence et d’humanité en vous priant de supprimer cette vente, et de faire parvenir ces amis katsina à leur seul vrai lieu d’appartenance : chez les peuples amérindiens de l’Arizona et New Mexico, afin que ceux-ci puissent en disposer selon leur rite et coutume.

Je vous prie, Messieurs les Directeurs, de recevoir l’expression mon sentiment respectueux et profondément déconcerté.

Robert G. Breunig, Ph.D.
Director, Museum of Northern Arizona

6 Responses to “Museum of Northern Arizona director condemns Paris auction of Hopi and other Native ceremonial objects”


  1. 1 Pearlstone, Zena April 4, 2013 at 11:17 am

    Hi Zena Here is the article, with a link to the audio file: http://www.english.rfi.fr/culture/20130404-native-americans-want-sacred-masks-saved-auction

    Would be great if you could circulate it around – get people reacting, on the site, or via twitter, etc.

    I do plan on going to the auction next week – I’ll keep you posted about what happens (I hear there is a Hopi artist who plans to attend, and shake things up?)

    Cheers, Sarah

    From: Beyond the Mesas <comment-reply@wordpress.com> Reply-To: Beyond the Mesas <comment+e355e01uhn0u1ihnhjjso9@comment.wordpress.com> Date: Thursday, April 4, 2013 9:10 AM To: “zpearlstone@fullerton.edu” <zpearlstone@fullerton.edu> Subject: [New post] Museum of Northern Arizona director condemns Paris auction of Hopi and other Native ceremonial objects

    Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert posted: “The following post was taken from the Facebook page of the Museum of Northern Arizona. I thank Director Dr. Robert Breunig for granting me permission to repost his letters (English and French versions) on BeyondtheMesas.com. Please distribute widely. _”

  2. 3 Laurence de Bure April 9, 2013 at 9:34 am

    if you know someone from Hopiland going to the auction let me know. I have some request from French journalist for interview.

  3. 5 EVELYN & MATTHEW MCCOSAR JR June 24, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    THIS has nothing to do with your auction, nice tho. I am looking for a WILLARD SAKIESTEWA JR, WHO use to live in Huntington park Ca. in 1965, who went to
    California Baptist University in Riverside,Ca. He was the best man at our wedding
    Matthew Mccosar Jr and Evelyn. He got married at Cal Baptist university RIVERSIDE, WE have been looking for him for a while now, if anyone knows
    where he is, they can email me at esmc33@aol.com or 951 500 1221
    or give him my information, I greatly appreciate your effort.


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© Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert and BEYOND THE MESAS, 2009-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert and BEYOND THE MESAS with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About the author

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert is enrolled with the Hopi Tribe from the village of Upper Moencopi in northeastern Arizona. He is an Associate Professor in the Department of History and a Dean's Fellow and Conrad Humanities Scholar in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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Foreword to Kevin Whalen’s Native Students at Work: American Indian Labor and Sherman Institute’s Outing Program, 1900-1945

A Second Wave of Hopi Migration (History of Education Quarterly, August 2014)

Sun Chief: An Autobiography of A Hopi Indian by Don C. Talayesva, New foreword by Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert (Sept. 2013)

Marathoner Louis Tewanima and the Continuity of Hopi Running, 1908-1912 (Western Historical Quarterly, Autumn 2012). Winner of Spur Award for Best Western Short Nonfiction, Western Writers of America (2013)

“Hopi Footraces and American Marathons, 1912-1930”, American Quarterly, Vol. 62, No. 1, March Issue 2010 (Click image to download article)

Hopi runner Philip Zeyouma’s trophy cups featured on cover of American Quarterly

Education beyond the Mesas: Hopi Students at Sherman Institute, 1902-1929 (University of Nebraska Press, 2010)

Education beyond the Mesas – Introduction (click image to download)

“‘The Hopi Followers’: Chief Tawaquaptewa and Hopi Student Advancement at Sherman Institute, 1906-1909”, Journal of American Indian Education, (Click image to download article)

The Indian School on Magnolia Avenue: Voices and Images From Sherman Institute (Oregon State University Press, 2012)

Arizona English Teachers Association highlights Hopi authors (click image to download)

Constitution and Bylaws of the Hopi Tribe (With all amendments, click to download)

Click to listen to KUYI On-Line

Matt’s Goodreads

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