Some members of the Iroquois Nation are very sensitive about the
sale of False Face Masks or their display in museums. The primary
concern is over the sale or display of masks that have been used in religious
ceremonies and are considered to be "live." The masks we offer
for sale have not been blessed and are not considered to be live masks.
The artists who make these masks do not consider their sale or distribution into
non-Iroquois society to be an issue. They often earn their livelihood or
supplement their income by making the masks and see it as a way of promoting
Every now and then, we receive e-mails from individuals who want
us to stop offering the masks. We explain our position and have offered
them an opportunity to post a message on our website provided they give us
permission in writing to reproduce the information so as to avoid any
possibility of copyright violation. To date, nobody has
Below is the text of a letter written by the late Chief Jacob
Thomas to the owner of a major gallery in Canada stating his position on the
sale of Iroquois False Face masks:
I am responding to your letter of October 3, 1994
requesting clarification of masks being sold to galleries,
collectors, and other institutions.
First of all in
the past the people carved different forms of art to help support
their livelihood. Particularly today as there are no jobs
this maybe the only source for the people to make a living is to
sell their art. Therefore many people do carve and sell
their art. I believe that this is an honest thing to do
rather than living on welfare or having to steal to provide for
The masks that I carve are not "blessed"
nor given any power for healing, and there is nothing wrong to
sell these masks. On the other hand, I do agree when the
people say that sacred masks should not be sold. Sacred
masks are blessed and given power to heal and to cure. This
is not a religious practice but it is a tradition that has been
passed on from generation to generation.
People are very critical but they overlook the
practice to sell native medicine, to compete in native dances, and
to sell their culture by smudging and by selling lacrosse sticks
(it's medicine too). Today lacrosse sticks are sold and
played all over the world.
If masks are forbidden to be sold and it becomes
too sacred then it will become a secret and no one will be able to
carve a mask and know what it means and it will become lost among
This is the way I make my living I carve many
forms of art and I make an honest living. If there is anyone
out there who needs more information they can contact
personally. I hope this clears confusion.
- Chief Jacob
On July 10, 2012, we received a call from Lana Watt, the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer from the Seneca Nation of Indians, claiming that she has the right to re-patriate any masks from federal institutions or any entity that receives federal funding or has federally guaranteed bank loans (Small Business Administration?). They do not appear to be making any distinction beween blessed religious objects from the longhouse and commercially produced art objects made by Iroquois artists.