After Failed Campaign to Stop Auction, Hopi Tribe Gets One Artifact Back From its Lawyer

neret-minet-hopi-auctionThough he failed to stop a sale of artifacts belonging to the Hopi tribe of Arizona at Paris’s Néret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou auction house in April when he took on the case pro bono, French lawyer Pierre Servan-Schreiber did manage to buy one of the objects himself — a piece dubbed a “Katsinam” that hammered down for $9,000 — and gift it back to the tribe, the New York Times reports.

“It is my way of telling the Hopi that we only lost a battle and not the war,” Servan-Schreiber told the Times. He represented the Hopis on behalf of Survival International, an organization that works to safeguard the rights of indigenous groups. The auction of 70 Hopi masks eventually brought in some $1.2 million, despite the high-profile legal feud and actor-director Robert Redford‘s support of the tribe.

While the auction house claimed that the artifacts had been acquired legally by a French collector, the Hopis maintained that the masks were ritual and spiritual objects never intended to be trafficked as art objects. Servan-Schreiber wasn’t the only benevolent buyer at the contested sale. Another Katsinam figure was bought by relatives of French singer Jules Dassin. That work will be returned to the Hopis later this year.

— Benjamin Sutton