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Heaume Korosto Sacred Mask (AFP)

Despite pleas from Hopi Tribal officials, supported by the U.S. Ambassador and actor Robert Redford, a court in Paris has allowed French auction house Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou to go forward with the sale of 70 traditional Hopi masks through an art auction. The Hopi Tribe asserts that the masks have sacred value, representing the spirits of their ancestors, and that the masks must have been stolen from their rightful owners.

Gilles Neret-Minet, of the Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou auction house, said “I'm happy that French law was respected."

"I am also very concerned about the Hopis' sadness, but you cannot break property law," he said. "These are in (private) collections in Europe: they are no longer sacred. When objects are in private collections, even in the United States, they are desacralized."

The most commercially-valuable of the masks is expected to sell for at least $65,500. The French auction house will receive a commission for each Hopi mask it sells.

Ironically, the decision comes as the French government is increasing its efforts to return art stolen by the Nazis during WWII to its original Jewish owners. Since 1999, the French Commission for the Compensation of Spoliation Victims has returned numerous works of art and paid $44 million in compensation to Jewish families whose artworks were stolen and brought to France.