Hopi Tribe and HARP File Lawsuit in France to Stop Future Sales of Sacred Objects

Herman Honanie

Herman Honanie

WASHINGTON — The Hopi Tribal Council and the Holocaust Art Restitution Project (HARP) filed a lawsuit in France to appeal a recent decision by the French “Conseil des Ventes” (“Board of Auction Sales”), an administrative body in charge of regulating and supervising auction sales on the French market.

The announcement of the lawsuit filing was made jointly by Herman G. Honanie, chairman of the Hopi Tribe and Ori Z. Soltes, of HARP.

Although the Conseil has the administrative power to suspend sales, it refused to suspend a December 15, 2014 auction sale of sacred “kwaa tsi” owned by the Hopi tribe, the Conseil allowed the sale to proceed after a special hearing held in Paris on December 11, 2014, rejecting the arguments put forth by the Hopi Tribe and HARP that title had never vested with subsequent possessors due to the sacred nature of these objects.

The lawsuit papers were filed with the main Civil Court in Paris called the “Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris” to appeal the denial of HARPs’ request for the administrative suspension of the December 15, 2014 auction sale of sacred Hopi objects, also known as “Friends.”

“The Conseil’s position is unsustainable: no adjudication authority can, as the Conseil repeatedly did, refuse the most basic access to justice by holding that neither the Hopi tribe as a group, nor the Hopi tribe Chairman as an individual, have any standing to file any cultural claim in France. Last June, in a similar proceeding, the Conseil had held that the Hopi tribe, in fact ANY Indian tribe, has no legal existence or standing as a group or as a recognized nation to pursue any cultural claim in France. In December 2014, the Conseil held that the Hopi tribe Chairman, in his individual capacity had no legal standing either. These two decisions close the door to ANY tribal group AND their members to file any cultural claims in France involving auction houses, regardless of title-related merits. Furthermore, this complete denial of access to justice flies in the face of international law principles in favor of all tribes and indigenous peoples, as the French government had endorsed, in the UN General Assembly, the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP),” said Soltes.

The Hopi Tribe is a federally recognized tribe of American Indians, who live in northeastern Arizona.

HARP is a not-for-profit group based in Washington, DC, dedicated to the identification and restitution of looted artworks require detailed research and analysis of public and private archives in North America. HARP has worked for 16 years on the restitution of artworks looted by the Nazi regime.

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