Navajo delegation pursues sacred masks at auction in Paris

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Navajo Vice President Rex Lee Jim poses for the media outside the Drouot auction house in Paris France. Dec. 15, 2014. Photo by Jared King.

Contact: Jared King
Communications Director
Navajo Nation Washington Office
Email: jking@nnwo.org
Cell: 202-200-0625

For Immediate Release

Navajo delegation pursues sacred masks at auction in Paris

PARIS—Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim and Navajo Human Rights officials will attempt to purchase seven confirmed Navajo sacred masks up for auction in Paris, France. Hundreds of items representing different Indigenous nations will go on auction at 2:30 p.m., Central European Time.

The Navajo delegation arrived in Paris Friday and accomplished one of its goals by gaining access to the sacred masks at the Drouot auction house on Saturday, Dec. 13. Vice President Rex Lee Jim offered sacred Navajo prayers to restore harmony from the masks being removed from the four sacred mountains.

It is also important to note that item 77 in the catalog is not of Navajo origin. Eve auction house does not know the origin of this item as indicated in the catalog. 

While in Paris, the news media coverage of the Navajo mission has spread throughout Europe. Jane Hartley, the U.S. ambassador to France, made a public appeal for the sacred masks be returned to the respective Indigenous nations, including the Navajo Nation. The Navajo delegation over the last three days, raised awareness of how the sacred masks belong to the Navajo Nation, and the right course of action, is to return them.

The vice president called the masks “living and breathing beings,” in Navajo, and as sacred to the people used for healing ceremonies during the winter. It is important that they be taken home.

“This is important because we have a cultural and spiritual connection with them. These are not art objects. They were not constructed for decorating homes or to hang art galleries. This is a major difference between the western concept of art and the Navajo concept of cultural patrimony,” the vice president said.

“We understand that many of the dealers do not understand this, that this concept is foreign to their culture,” the vice president added.

“As an elected official of the Navajo people, one of my duties is to protect these sacred masks and that is why I am here with the steadfast support of the Navajo government, our lawmakers and our people,” the vice president said.

The Navajo delegation calls on the Navajo medicine people and all Navajos to pray for a successful mission in returning these sacred masks back to the Navajo Nation.

The delegation will return to the Navajo Nation on Tuesday.

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