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for people who care about the West

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 www.repatriationfoundation.org.

* Karen Mockler