PARIS — The largest Native American tribe in the American Southwest won its bid Monday to buy back seven sacred masks at a contested auction of tribal artifacts in Paris that netted over a million dollars.

The objects for sale at the Drouot auction house included religious masks, colored in pigment, that are believed to have been used in Navajo wintertime healing ceremonies but that generally are disassembled and returned to the earth once the nine-day ceremonies conclude.

The sale went ahead despite efforts by the U.S. government and Arizona’s congressional delegation to halt it.

The sales at the auction – which totaled $1.12 million – also included dozens of Hopi kachina dolls and several striking Pueblo masks embellished with horse hair, bone and feathers, thought to be from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.The U.S. Embassy in Paris had asked Drouot to suspend the sale to allow Navajo and Hopi representatives to determine if they were stolen from the tribes. But Drouot refused, arguing that the auction was in accordance with the law – and that a French tribunal had previously ruled that a similar sale was legal.

Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim said the objects were not art but “living and breathing beings” that should not be traded commercially.

Jim, a medicine man who traveled to Paris for the auction with three other Navajo officials, said they were unable to determine the exact provenance of the artifacts but said they had to face the reality of the auction and buy them back.

“They are sacred masks … and unfortunately they end up here. Whether that is legal or illegal … we don’t know. What we do know is that they are for sale,” Jim said.

The Navajo Nation representatives bid for seven masks at the auction, winning them for $9,120.

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