With assistance from the Annenberg Foundation, Gregory Annenberg Weingarten intervened in a French auction by purchasing sacred Native American objects and repatriating them to their rightful owners.
Acting Quickly and Anonymously
In 2013, over 100 sacred Native American objects were being auctioned at a French auction house in Paris, including 24 objects belonging to the Hopi tribe and three objects belonging to the Apache tribe. Both tribes, as well as the U.S. Embassy in France, argued that the spiritual objects had been illegally obtained and the auction house had no authority to sell them. However, after the matter was brought to the French courts, they ultimately ruled against the tribes, upholding that the sellers legally owned the objects and therefore had the right to sell them at auction.
While living in Paris, Gregory Annenberg Weingarten followed the case and was alerted that the courts had ruled against the Native American tribes. Upon hearing the news, he decided to collaborate with the Annenberg Foundation in Los Angeles to creatively intervene in the situation. At Gregory’s request, staff from the Annenberg Foundation anonymously entered the auction and purchased the items at the auction, monitoring the transaction online, and placing bids over the phone. Gregory and the Foundation were able to successfully purchase 24 out of the 27 items, including a sacred Hopi headdress, which sold for over $100,000.
A Happy Reunion
Following the auction, Gregory repatriated all 24 of the objects to the Hopi and Apache tribes, who had been previously unaware of the Annenberg Foundation’s role in the auction. The items—which are regarded by the tribes as living entities with divine spirits, rather than artifacts for display—were repatriated to their rightful owners with much gratitude and emotion. This act of repatriation encouraged other individuals to also repatriate objects they purchased in auctions, and led to a broader awareness and discussion of Native American artifacts, which are often wrongly acquired and sold.
In 2016, Gregory traveled to Arizona to meet with members of the Hopi tribe and to learn more about the spiritual and cultural significance of the repatriated items. Later that year, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian awarded Gregory the Innovative Partnership in Repatriation Award in recognition of this work.
To learn more, visit Hopi Tribe.
Related article: New York Times “Secret Bids Guide Hopi Indians’ Spirits Home”