PARIS (AP) — Security guards removed two silent protesters wearing face paint from a Paris auction hall Monday amid criticism over the sale of Hopi artifacts that tribal leaders and U.S. officials call sacred.
Decrying their "propaganda," an auctioneer at the famed Drouot auction house ordered the female protesters out. They responded by shouting "You can't sell sacred works!" in French and arguing with the guards, insisting they had a right to be at the auction attended by a few dozen people.
The protest was the latest episode in a trans-Atlantic showdown over auctions in France of sacred Native American artifacts like tribal masks and brightly colored Hopi kachina dolls. Tribal leaders say the most sacred items represent the spirits of their ancestors and only a tribe member is allowed to possess them.
The Hopi tribe contends the auction house is illegally selling spiritual objects, but French courts have repeatedly upheld the right to sell them. Unlike the United States, France lacks laws to protect indigenous people but the U.S. government has no legal authority to stop auctions in France.
The Associated Press is not transmitting images of the objects because the Hopi have strict rules about photographing the items.
U.S. lawmakers from Arizona asked U.S. law enforcement to try to stop the sale of about dozen sacred Hopi artifacts sold by the Estimations Ventes aux Encheres house, as well as some Zuni and Pueblo pieces. Some protesters alleged the artifacts were brought to France to skirt U.S. law.
Hopi figurines in cottonwood made up most of the Native American pieces on Monday, which sold for no more than a few thousand euros (dollars) each.
"I didn't open my mouth. I showed no disrespect to anyone and they took me out of the room ... violently," said protester Morgane Geoffroy, 28. "I'm against cultural genocide ... These are sacred objects that were stolen from people and should be returned to those people."
The auctioneer could not be immediately reached for comment.