A Paris auction house auctioned off a set of ancient masks considered sacred by the Hopi Native American tribe today, after a French court refused the tribe's petition to halt the sale. The Hopi had argued that the 70 colorful wood and leather masks in the collection were stolen from them, but the auction house argued that since the masks had been previously bought and sold, its acquisition of them was legal, the BBC reports. The masks sold for more than $1.2 million in total.
US laws prohibit the sale of Native American artifacts, but France has no such protections. "If we lose this case, there will be no more sales of objects of indigenous art in France," an auctioneer said in court. The Hopi believe the masks are sacred tools for communicating with the spirits of the dead. "To auction these would be, in my opinion, a sacrilege—a criminal gesture that contains grave moral repercussions," actor Robert Redford, who has been lending support to the tribe, wrote before the ruling. At least one buyer, an association, intends to give its purchased mask back to the Hopis. (Read more Hopi stories.)