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Nez Perce Leggings Among Hundreds Of Native American Items At Protested Paris Auction

Nakia Williamson
Nez Perce Tribe
A pair of women's leggings similar to those pictured were part of a Paris auction that included more than 400 indigenous artifacts from North America, Central and South America and Asia.

In Paris Monday, an auction of 400 artifacts included a pair of leggings that could have been worn by a woman from the Nez Perce Tribe of northern Idaho in the 1890s. Questions about whether many of the items had been acquired legally nearly halted the auction.

The leggings are made of animal skin and cotton. Red panels at the top give way to a sea of tiny blue, yellow and green glass beads that form arrows.

According to a tag inside the leggings, they came from somewhere West of the Rockies and East of the Cascades and belonged to someone from either the Nez Perce or Sioux Indian tribes.

Nakia Williamson is the director of the Nez Perce tribe’s Cultural Resources Program. He said the style is consistent with Nez Perce design.

“They don’t look Sioux to me, but they could be potentially be plateau -- Columbia River plateau, which would include the Nez Perce tribe,” Williamson said. “But they could also be far northwest plains or even Northern plateau, like Salish speaking people.”

The EVE Auction House in Paris priced the leggings between 2,500 and 3,500 euros. Whether they sold and what the final bid may have been has not been disclosed.

Williamson said it’s unlikely the Nez Perce Tribe will try to find out more, because the leggings are unlikely to have been used as part of a ceremony.

“If it was a larger collection or some other item that had a specific role in some of our ceremonial activities, likely that might be different,” Williamson said. “But that’s not to diminish the importance that these items had to the individual or the family that they came from.”

The majority of the Native American artifacts included in this auction came from tribes in the desert southwest. The auction also included items from tribes on the central plains, Alaska and Canada. Other artifacts came from Central and South America, and Asia.

A similar auction last summer netted more than $500,000. The sale of Native American artifacts is prohibited under U.S. federal law, but those laws are not applicable in France.

Native American tribes and the U.S. government have increased efforts to halt the sale of artifacts overseas in the last three years.