A carved Tlingit ‘mosquito’ mask has changed hands in a Paris auction house for $400,000.
That price puts it out of reach of many museums or the First Nation which originally created it, and the 150-year-old wooden artifact is now likely destined for a private collection.
The traditional territories of Tlingit First Nations are in southwest Yukon, southeast Alaska and northwest B.C.
The mask was originally expected to sell for much less than it did – $40,000. When it came up at the Christie’s auction house it was subject to a bidding war. An unidentified European collector took home the piece.
Bob Paterson is a University of British Columbia law professor who specializes in aboriginal repatriation. He said the rarity of these artifacts hikes up the prices.
Paterson said some federally funded museums in the United States are legally compelled to return artifacts to First Nations, but those laws don’t apply to private collectors.
“Generally, privately owned objects, like the one that came up in France, are sort of outside this process,” he said.
Paterson said some First Nations don't want or can't afford the security and insurance costs of looking after such high-valued artifacts.