The sacred comes home
In the spring of 1991, the Hopi and Navajo Nations
asked Sotheby's auction house in New York City to remove three
ceremonial masks from its annual "Fine American Indian Arts'
auction. Sotheby's refused the requests, Hopi and Navajo dismay got
national coverage, and Elizabeth Sackler, a native New Yorker with
a Ph.D. in public history, found herself outraged. That May, she
went to the auction and purchased the three masks in order to
return them. As a result, Sackler found herself flooded with
letters of gratitude from native and non-native people alike.
"There was no intention in my mind of starting a foundation," says
Sackler. "(But) the phone was ringing like crazy. I suddenly
realized there was a vacuum in the communications between native
and non-native people. There were many non-natives who wanted to
see something done, to right the wrongs." That fall, Sackler
started the Repatriation Foundation in New York City, which has so
far returned to tribes more than 30 ceremonial pieces. "Part of our
mission is to create a code of ethics for the art market," says
Sackler, "(to) encourage a distinction between what is and isn't
appropriate for sale."
The foundation's work is
described in its newsletter, News & Notes, published twice a
year. To subscribe, call 212/980-9441 or visit its website at