Navajo Delegation Calls Repatriation Efforts a Success: Retrieve Masks Sold at Auction

Navajo Vice President Rex Lee Jim addresses French media

Navajo Vice President Rex Lee Jim addresses French media

PARIS — The Navajo delegation on a mission to Paris, led by Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim was successful in their repatriation efforts of all seven sacred Navajo masks that went on sale at an auction house by bidding and outright purchasing all seven sacred Navajo masks.

“This was a very delicate mission,” Vice President Rex Lee Jim said at the conclusion of the auction. “We are happy to be taking these Navajo sacred masks home to be cleansed by our Navajo medicine people, who will determine when these masks will be used in our wintertime ceremonies,” he said.

The Navajo delegation arrived in Paris France on Friday. Upon arrival, the delegation wanted to verify the masks as being of Navajo origin. In a private ceremony held at the Drouot Auction House, the vice president offered sacred Navajo prayers for the masks, believed to be authentically of the early 1900s.

Navajo Vice President Jim at auction

Navajo Vice President Jim at auction

“In our prayers and songs to these sacred Navajo beings, we spoke and our deities know that we do care. Our ceremony was a way to reconnect with them and to let them know that we are here to take them home. We did not forget them. We care about who we’re taught to be—Diné. It’s a way to communicate with the inner beings of these sacred masks,” the vice president said.

In bringing awareness while in a foreign country, the vice president said there is an urgent need to understand that nationally and internationally and out of respect for one another’s cultures and ceremonies, and respect for human dignity and diversity that, “we all need to be aware that there are certain sacred beings that we should never, ever sell. In this case, one cannot imagine selling other peoples sacred beings. These masks are living, breathing beings,” the vice president added.

“These masks are spiritual beings and the Navajo people have strong connections with them. We need to regard them as such,” Vice President Rex Lee Jim said.

The Navajo delegation offers gratitude for the tremendous support from those who have stepped forward urging Eve auction house to halt the sale until Navajo and other tribal representatives can view and authenticate the masks. They thank United States Ambassador Jane Hartley, and officials for the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “This was a government to government cooperation, and we are grateful,” said the vice president before leaving Paris.

The Navajo delegation returns to Window Rock, Arizona on Tuesday.

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