PARIS (AP) — A French auction house withdrew a Pueblo shield from a contested sale of Native American artifacts Monday after protests from the United States.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Phil Frayne called it a "small victory in a larger battle" to repatriate tribal artifacts to their original homes. Frayne told The Associated Press that the U.S. government believes the 19th-century shield might have been taken illegally in the 1970s, and so it was withdrawn by Drouot just before the auction Monday.
The sale of the object — a large disc with a colored face in pigment adorned in bird feathers that was estimated to fetch up to 7,000 euros ($7,800) — is now suspended pending further examination. The Pueblo Indians live in the southwestern United States, primarily in the present-day states of New Mexico and Arizona.
Protesters waved banners outside Drouot that read "Cultural Genocide" and "Sacred Not for Sale."
But a member of the Tlingit indigenous community, Crystal Worl, who came to Drouot to protest left Monday's sale surprisingly optimistic.
"Today, one item being able to be repatriated is a small step but a necessary step to the bigger picture," Worl said.
She said the shield "has cultural values that need to be passed on to the next generations. And it excites me to know that there is hope for the future."
A total of 313 lots were auctioned in a relatively empty and quiet sale in which bids often failed to meet the predicted catalog prices.
Twelve sacred Kachina masks went under the hammer for 116,000 euros ($129,000) — with the most precious, the Crow Mother going for 38,000 euros ($42,300), about a third less than expected.
Past sales of tribal artifacts in Paris have been opposed by Native American representatives who consider them sacred and believe they were once stolen from tribes.