Armed with $20,000, officials from the Navajo Nation went to Paris to purchase at auction several sacred masks used in religious ceremonies.
The U.S. Embassy in Paris asked the Drouot auction house to stop the sale of Navajo and Pueblo masks and Hopi kachina dolls so representatives could find out if the pieces had been stolen. Drouot said that the auction was in accordance with the law, The Associated Press reports, and went ahead with the sale, making $1.12 million on Monday.
The Hopi refused to take part in the auction, with Chairman Herman Honanie saying he was "appalled" by the sale. The Navajo wanted to retrieve the masks, called "living and breathing beings" by Navajo Vice President Rex Lee Jim, and officials were authorized to spend up to $20,000. They ended up purchasing seven masks — used in private ceremonies and forbidden from being photographed or recorded — for more than $9,000.