Tag Archives: native american

good deed for good red road.


December 16, 2013
 Secret Bids Guide Hopi Indians’ Spirits Home

The auction in Paris was set to move briskly, at about two items a minute; the room was hot and crowded, buzzing with reporters.

More than 100 American Indian artifacts were about to go on sale at the Drouot auction house, including 24 pieces, resembling masks, that are held sacred by the Hopi of Arizona. The tribe, United States officials and others had tried unsuccessfully to block the sale in a French court, arguing that the items were religious objects that had been stolen many years ago.

Now the Annenberg Foundation decided to get involved from its offices in Los Angeles. It hoped to buy all of the Hopi artifacts, plus three more sought by the San Carlos Apaches, at the Dec. 9 sale and return them to the tribes. To prevent prices from rising, the foundation kept its plan a secret, even from the Hopis, in part to protect the tribe from potential disappointment. Given the nine-hour time difference, the foundation put together a team that could work well into the night, bidding by phone in the auction in France.

The foundation had never done something like this before — a repatriation effort — and the logistics were tricky, to say the least.

Two staff members in Los Angeles, one a French speaker, were assigned to the job. The foundation also quietly arranged for a Paris lawyer, Pierre Servan-Schreiber, who had represented the Hopi pro bono in the court proceeding, to serve as lookout in the auction room.

He stood in the back, on the phone to the foundation. Whispering updates to him was Philip J. Breeden, a cultural attaché from the United States Embassy.

“It was intense, like a movie,” Mr. Servan-Schreiber said.

But camouflaging the role of the foundation was crucial.

“I knew nothing good would come out of it if the house knew there were people out to get the whole thing,” he said. “I was sure that would jack up the prices.”

The sale had been assembled by the auction house EVE with pieces from a variety of American tribes that were held by a number of French collectors, all of whom said they had owned the items for many years and had good title to them. Several collectors said they had been impressed by prices realized at an April auction of 70 Hopi artifacts.

The tribe had been angered by the earlier sale as well, which like this auction featured vibrantly decorated Hopi headdresses, known as Katsinam. The tribe, which had gone to court to block both sales, believes the items are not simply religious, but living entities with divine spirits.

Gregory Annenberg Weingarten, vice president and director of the foundation who lives in Paris, had followed the legal battle in the French news media. After the Hopi lost in court on Dec. 6, he went to the auction house to preview the artifacts, all of which are more than a century old.

“These are not trophies to have on one’s mantel,” Mr. Weingarten would say later. “They are truly sacred works for the Native Americans. They do not belong in auction houses or private collections.”

Mr. Weingarten had his California staff tally the presale estimates from the auction catalog and confirm that the objects were authentic. The staff members also became familiar with the Hopi belief system and built a database that would allow them to follow online the bidding on the objects they wanted. Mr. Weingarten approved a budget of $500,000 to $1 million to buy all 27 disputed Native American lots — the 24 masklike Hopi artifacts and three items of divine significance to the San Carlos Apache, also in Arizona. To do so he tapped into a discretionary fund set aside for individual projects.

“It was a leap-of-faith kind of moment for us,” said Leonard J. Aube, executive director of the foundation, which was founded by Walter H. Annenberg, the publisher, philanthropist and diplomat. “Not a lot of foundations are geared up for this kind of clandestine, late-night activity.”

At one point, the owner of the EVE auction house, Alain Leroy, said he had noticed that one phone bidder was grabbing up the disputed Hopi objects and told an employee to check into it. Reassured that the buyer had wired money ahead of time and was legitimate, he says he nonetheless grew frustrated and even muttered aloud that he hoped the secret bidder would “leave some for the others.”

Members of the Hopi tribe were also watching the sale online from Arizona. Unaware of the forces at work on their behalf, they said they became dispirited as item after item sold. Sam Tenakhongva, a cultural director for the Hopi, said when he turned off his lights at 2 a.m., he felt he was saying goodbye to the spirits embodied in the headdresses.

The foundation, however, had enjoyed marked success in the bidding. By the end of the auction, it had spent $530,695 and bought all but three of the 24 Hopi objects and the three other Apache artifacts that the foundation had sought.

And one of the three, a Hopi headdress featuring antelope antlers, had been bought by Mr. Servan-Schreiber on behalf of a couple, Marshall W. Parke, of the private equity firm Lexington Partners, and his wife, Véronique, who had instructed him to obtain what he could as a gift to the Hopis.

Mr. Servan-Schreiber said when it was his turn to bid, he took care to inform the foundation people, “so we wouldn’t start bidding against each other.”

The foundation lost out on only two items, both times, participants said, because of miscommunication. But they secured the auction’s priciest lot, a Hopi Crow Mother headdress that sold for $130,000. The event, which was over in a quick hour, generated $1.6 million in sales.

“It’s a good outcome for the Hopi but not the collectors, I suppose,” Mr. Leroy, the auction house owner, said of the foundation’s tally. The Hopi did not learn of their tribe’s good fortune until several hours later when the foundation sent an email alerting them to its clandestine purchases. Mr. Aube said the Annenberg Foundation, which focuses on civic and community projects, is consulting with the Hopi on how best to return the Katsinam.

The objects, surreal faces made from wood, leather, horsehair and feathers and painted in vivid reds, blues, yellows and oranges, cannot be encased in Bubble Wrap, for example, because it would be seen as suffocating the divine spirits. The Hopi have not identified their plans for these artifacts on their return, but they are not viewed as art objects or housed in museums. Typically, Katsinam are still used in spiritual ceremonies or are retired and left to disintegrate naturally.

For Mr. Tenakhongva, the fact that the Katsinam had to be bought and paid for, even by benefactors, was a bittersweet nod to the reality that some American Indian artifacts have become highly sought, expensive commodities.

“No one should have to buy back their sacred property,” he said. “But now at least they will be at home with us and they will go to rest.”

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ancient petroglyphs.

Oldest North American Rock Art May Be 14,800 Years Old

Nevada petroglyphs could date back to the first peopling of the Americas.

Non-invasive Examination

Benson said it might be possible to better pinpoint the age of the petroglyphs, but it would require sampling carbonate from inside the etchings themselves—something that he has agreed not to do.

Benson obtained permission to non-invasively examine the carvings from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, which owns the land.

“One of the deals I made was that I would only work to the side of the glyphs, and not touch any of the glyphs themselves,” Benson said.

Mystery Artists

Prior to the new dating of the Lake Winnemucca petroglyphs, the oldest rock art in North America was thought to be carvings found at Long Lake in Oregon that date to roughly 7,300 years ago.

Benson says he doesn’t know what the symbols at Lake Winnemucca mean, or who might have made them, but he notes that their ages roughly match those of several pieces of fossilized human feces, or coprolites, that were discovered in Paisley Cave in Oregon and dated to around 14,400 to 13,000 years ago.

This date is close to when scientists think humans first began settling the Americas. In a new study published in this week’s issue of the journal of theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists say they have found genetic evidence that a first wave of migrants crossed into the Americas from Asia about 15,000 to 18,000 years ago by slowly creeping down the continent’s coasts.

A few thousand years later, according to the study, a second wave of humans entered North America, this time by slipping across the Bering Strait into Alaska and then crossing through an ice-free corridor into Canada.

Benson speculated that members of the first wave of settlers might have been responsible for the Lake Winnemucca rock art.

“It’s possible that those people did occupy areas farther south, like the Lake Winnemucca area … [but] it is also possible that paleoindians occupying the Winnemucca Lake basin between 11,300 and 10,500 years ago carved the petroglyphs,” he said.

“At the moment we have no way to decide between the two possibilities.”


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“If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation. If I got any comfort as I set out on my first story, it was that in nearly every story, the protagonist is transformed. He’s a jerk at the beginning and nice at the end, or a coward at the beginning and brave at the end. If the character doesn’t change, the story hasn’t happened yet. And if story is derived from real life, if story is just condensed version of life then life itself may be designed to change us so that we evolve from one kind of person to another. ”  – Donald Miller


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“Scared and sacred are spelled with the same letters. Awful proceeds from the same root word as awesome. Terrify and terrific. Every negative experience holds the seed of transformation.” – Alan Cohen

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“Particular mountains, canyons, streams, boulder-strewn fields or groves of trees have not yet lost the expressive potency and dynamism with which they spontaneously present themselves to the senses.  A particular place in the land is never, for an oral culture, just a passive or inert setting for the human events that occur there.  It is an active participant in those occurrences. Indeed, by virtue of its underlying and enveloping presence, the place may even be felt to be the source, the primary power that expresses itself through the various events that unfold there.” – David Abram

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“Whenever we of literate culture seek to engage an understand the discourse of oral cultures, we must strive to free ourselves from our habitual impulse to visualize any language as a static structure that could be diagrammed, or a set of rules that could be ordered and listed.  Without a formal writing system, the language of an oral culture cannot be objectified as a separate entity by those who speak it, and this lack of objectification influences not only the way in which oral cultures experience the field of discursive meanings, but also the very character and structure of that field.  In the absence of any written dialogue to speech, the sensible, natural environment remains the primary visible counterpart of spoken utterance, the visible accompaniment of all spoken meaning.  The land, in other words,  is the sensible site or matrix wherein meaning occurs and proliferates.  In the absence of writing, we find ourselves situated in the field of discourse as we are embedded in the natural landscape; indeed the two matrices are not separable.  We can no more stabilize the language and render its meanings determinate than we can freeze all motion and metamorphosis within the land.” – David Abram

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“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.” – Edith Sitwell

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The first tipi that I remember is one my dad built for me when I was about four years old and was made out of a blanket, broom and throw pillows. Pop turned the broom upside down and put it into the middle of the living room sofa, put the blankets over the top and used red corduroy round throw pillows to keep the ends down.

Dad used to make these tipis for me at night when he let me stay up late while mom was working the 3:00 to 11:00 p.m. shift at the hospital. I remember getting into the tipi and lying on my stomach with hands propping up my chin as I watched the black and white television set with dad.

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“What is home? My favorite definition is “a safe place,” a place where one is free from attack, a place where one experiences secure relationships and affirmation. It’s a place where people share and understand each other. Its relationships are nurturing. The people in it do not need to be perfect; instead, they need to be honest, loving, supportive, recognizing a common humanity that makes all of us vulnerable.” – Gladys Hunt

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“In life, a person will come and go from many homes. We may leave a house, a town, a room, but that does not mean those places leave us. Once entered, we never entirely depart the homes we make for ourselves in the world. They follow us, like shadows, until we come upon them again, waiting for us in the mist.” – Ari Berk

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