Tribal peoples' advocacy group Survival International has filed a court action in Paris in an effort to halt the sale of sacred objects from Arizona's Hopi indians.
Survival International, the London-based organization which lobbies for tribal peoples worldwide, said it had secured an 11th-hour court hearing in Paris on Friday where auctioneers Neret-Minet would attend.
Around 70 brightly colored "Kachina" visages and headdresses are due to go under the hammer in a sale, also scheduled for Friday, by Neret-Minet.
The auction has outraged members of the Hopi tribe, who say the items are blessed with divine spirits, and insist that the auction is a form of sacrilege.
Neret-Minet says the auction should be allowed to proceed because the items were acquired legally by a French collector during a 30-year residence in the United States.
However Stephen Corry, Director of Survival International, said the argument against the sale going ahead was solid.
"It ought to be pretty clear to the auctioneers that the sale of these objects would cause profound hurt and distress to the Hopi people," Corry said in a statement.
"To the Hopi, these are not museum objects but an intrinsic part of a thriving, living culture, which should be treated with respect. The auction house should think again and cancel the sale."
Hopi Tribal Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa said in the statement he believed the items had been stolen from the tribe.
"We think these sacred objects were stolen from the Hopi tribe and should be returned to the proper custodians and caretakers, the Kachina chiefs, within their respective Hopi villages," he said.