Brooklyn Journal of International Law


The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) compels member states to take action in order to protect the rights of the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples, including the right to their cultural property. Notwithstanding the UNDRIP’s robust set of protections, its status as a nonbinding piece of international law remains its ultimate and most fatal flaw. France was an enthusiastic supporter of the UNDRIP at ratification, but has effectively abandoned their position. French auction houses and courts have allowed for sales of Native American sacred property to proceed despite the objections of the Hopi Tribe. In spite of international protest, a French court ruled that Native Americans and all other indigenous peoples lacked the requisite standing to bring cultural claims in France. Subsequently, numerous sales of sacred masks known as “Katsinam” have continued without any legal restitution for the Hopi Tribe. This Note argues that while the UNDRIP sets out basic parameters affording indigenous peoples a means of protection, without the ability to enforce its provisions, the Hopi and indigenous peoples throughout the world will remain incapable of using the UNDRIP as a means of empowerment. France has set a dangerous precedent for countries to continue disobeying the principles of the UNDRIP without consequence for noncompliance. Indigenous peoples will remain powerless to protect their sacramentals unless the UNDRIP is transformed into a multilateral treaty and adopted into the domestic law of member states.