American Contemporary Creative Nonfiction

Crow Mother

As a plump newborn baby in Arizona, even before she knew her Crow Mother, Caty Loloma spent the first 19 days of her life secluded indoors, where the elder women of the family cared for her. Baby Caty was wrapped in a blanket alongside two ears of perfectly formed corn named “Mother” and “Grandmother”. On the 20th day following her birth, Caty received her Hopi name, Catori, in a sunrise ceremony. Thirty-one years later, Caty found herself in the middle of a dispute in Paris.

“Monsieur Glouton, it’s time for you and your colleagues to realize this sort of thing is unethical and sacrilegious. How would you feel if I stole objets sacrés of Jesus’ passion and crucifixion, say the Crown of Thorns, from the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris and then sold it on eBay?” 

Caty tried to smile through growing exasperation. She was certain her assertions and questions were falling on stubborn ears, but she refused to surrender.  As tribal advocate, Caty had been working for nearly six months to resolve the dispute between the Hopi and a French auction house about the ownership of tribal sacred objects. After the Hopi lost their lawsuit against Integrant Auction House, there was nothing more Caty could do but appeal to the owner’s sense of righteousness.

Alfonse Glouton laughed. “Mademoiselle, you are preposterous! Intregant Auctions is hardly eBay. This is the American Indian sale of the year! As I have already informed you, and the press, and the lawyers, and the U.S. Ambassador, and the vociferous protestors outside, not a single American law was violated in acquiring the artifacts. Yes, France signed the UNESCO treaty and the United Nations Declaration, but as you know, France does not have laws to protect indigenous peoples. Intregant may be located in France, but we have signed no treaties or declarations. We are well within our rights to sell the dolls and masks. We simply act as a conduit through which objets d'art find a home with collectors who appreciate the beauty and cultural significance of the unique items we offer for bid. The auction shall proceed as scheduled.” 

As she grew from infant to child, the Katsinas visited and brought Catori gifts to guide her toward her lifelong pathway. The most special of these gifts was a sacred figure Catori cared for like a baby. She protected the Katsina fiercely even now, so it would not find its way to an auction house or profane collection.

Shortly before puberty, Catori and some other children were brought to the plaza. It was mystical when the Katsinas came to the plaza to dance and sing songs. It seemed like a fever dream. During the afternoon, the Katsina friends brought bows and arrows and sacred figures as gifts for the children. The children eagerly took the gifts as proof of their rightful place as Hopi, the peaceful people.

Caty had not been able to convince Glouton to stop using the words “artifacts” or “masks” or “dolls” to  describe the Katsina spirits. It pained her to see glossy color photos of her ancestors in the auction catalog. Glouton would never understand the Katsinas up for auction were not lifeless representations of Hopi culture. The sacred objects physically embody the Hopi people’s ancestors. Their mystical faces, adorned with vibrant red and blue paint, horse hair, and feathers actually contain Hopi spirits. Caty’s tribe had nurtured and long kept the Katsinas from sacrilegious public view. During the most recent ownership dispute, even the Associated Press had agreed not to photograph or publish images of the Katsinas when reporting the story. Caty cringed at the sight of absurd corncobs scattered randomly in the blasphemous images of  her ancestors.

During their initiation, Catori and the other children met Crow Mother. Catori was so excited and hopeful.  Her heart was pounding, her palms sweaty. A mixture of fear, wonder, and intense anticipation filled the scorching Arizona air. Finally, the moment had come! Crow Mother and her two sons rushed into the plaza where the children waited. It was an electrifying scene. Crow Mother and her sons made as much noise as possible, shouting, beating their yucca whips on the plaza and shaking their rattles. The children tensed as dust swirled around them, the air thick with Crow Mother and her sons’ yells, calls, and hoots.

Caty thought the insensitive names used in the catalog to describe her ancestors were nothing short of racial slurs.  The auction sale of 25 of her Hopi ancestors was like a barbaric slave sale in a posh, supposedly civilized, corner of  Paris. The Katsinas were stolen from their homeland in Arizona then flown across the ocean to be sold to the highest bidder.

            When it was time, Catori’s ceremonial godparents brought her forward to the sand painting. She was shaking. Her Crow Mother approached and gave Catori four strokes with the yucca whip. After the Crow Mother finished whipping each of the children four times, the children whipped each other. Finally, the children whipped Crow Mother.

Caty took her seat at the front of the auction salon. With the raising of each bid paddle, Caty thought she might scream. Glouton gestured toward the object under glass on a marble pedestal.

“Last up for auction is Crow Mother. One of the most impressive of this lot, is this turquoise blue mask flanked by two crow-feather wings, dating from about 1860-70. This artifact is one of the biggest masterpieces of tribal art. Bidding will begin at 50,000 euro. Who would like to make the first bid?”

Caty was repulsed as her Crow Mother, the dignified Katsina who initiated her and all Hopi children into tribal beliefs and culture, was treated like a lifeless piece of property to be added to someone’s collection. She noted most of the bidders in the auction room were white men, just like history's American and European slave traders and colonizers.  She assumed the phone bidders were the same. As the bidding slowed, Glouton called for final bids.

 “We have 200,000 euro. Do I hear 220? 220? Last call. Going once. Going twice. Sold for $200 euro to our anonymous bidder on the phone!”

Before leaving the plaza, Catori and the other children received a prayer feather and some cornmeal. They laughed and ran excitedly from the plaza, proud of their Hopi initiation. Elated to have finally met Crow Mother.

Caty left the auction house feeling defeated. Despite her best efforts and the support of the U.S. Embassy and half a dozen advocacy groups, the Katsinas would not return to Arizona with her. It was several days before she learned a philanthropic foundation had phoned in several anonymous bids, acquiring 21 Katsinas, including Crow Mother, in order to return them to their rightful home with the tribe. Caty knew there would be more disputes over rightful ownership of Hopi sacred objects; but for now, Crow Mother had flown home.

July 05, 2022 23:31

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Tommy Goround
04:46 Aug 17, 2022

Clapping. I don't really have any imbued objects in my faith ... So you have my interest. Jews and Christians should get the ark of the covenant, Moses's staff and there's one other but I forget. Conversely the spear that hit Jesus in the side... The crown of thorns -- these are all evidence of a murder. So your story about the Hopi actually reminds me of some more Asian influence. We walk down the small streets in Tokyo and I have to stop at the shrines. They can be 100 years old but the family has stayed in Tokyo since the 1840s and so...


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Carl Tengstrom
13:52 Jul 10, 2022

This was an interesting but odd story, which I had difficult to understand. I did not see what Caty had to do with the auction, beside the crow mother. The language was good andthe story well written but the plot was difficult to follow.


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