A headdress stolen from a display of Aboriginal regalia 15 years ago in Vancouver mysteriously wound up in a bin on the North Shore last week and has now made its way back to its original Squamish Nation custodians.
The headdress belonged to the late Chief Simon Baker, who gifted it to his son, Ron Baker. It was later put on display at the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre, where it was stolen in 2006 along with other traditional regalia. Other items were returned, but the headdress was never seen again.
Until last week, that is, when North Shore resident Harry Werner spotted feathers poking out of a garbage bag in a dumpster near the Plaza apartment building on Marine Drive in North Vancouver and wondered what it was. When he reached in to have a look, to his surprise, it is was a First Nations headdress – in very good condition.
“I thought, ‘this must mean something to somebody,’” Werner said.
So he and his roommate, Ian Bee, posted pictures of the headdress to Facebook in the hope that someone would recognize it.
“It took us two and a half to three days to find the owner – or, the owner found us!” Werner said.
Bee said a few people had tried to claim the headdress, but they weren’t certain it was theirs until they received a message from Baker’s niece who sent a picture of him wearing it.
He said a number of family members looked at the picture to identify it was a match before contacting Baker.
“We called him, and he identified that there was a fox in the back of the headdress holding it together, and that’s when we were 100 per cent sure it was his,” Bee explained.
Ron Baker said when he looked at the post on Facebook and saw the headdress, he was shocked, but just “so happy to see it.”
“It was gone so long, and we didn't know where it was,” the 78-year-old said.
“I saw the post on Facebook and it said, ‘Does anybody know who this belongs to?’ And I was looking up the wall [at a photo] with me dancing at a powwow about 30 years ago with the same headdress on.”
When Werner and Bee found out who the headdress belonged to and how long it had been gone, they were amazed.
“I was wondering where it had been, because of the shape it was in,” Werner said. It was really, almost like new.
“To be gone that long, it’s a miracle even.”
The headdress was returned to Baker at his home in the Squamish Nation community of X̱wemelch'stn on Sunday, March 7, with a ceremony to cleanse its bad spirits.
Bee said his family sung their canoe song to bring the headdress back to Baker and shared the story of how they found it and wanted to give it back.
“Our family's happy it has been returned,” he said, adding that these traditional items used in First Nations ceremonies were gifted by the Creator for that individual to look after.
“It was actually an awesome experience.”
Werner added that it “felt real good” to know the headdress was back with its original caretakers.
Baker said the family was “so happy” to have the precious item returned, which held so much history and so many memories.
“My father was the first one to start powwows here in Vancouver, and that was in the ‘40s and ‘50s,” he said. “He wanted to start the powwows to show everybody that it just wasn’t us Indians here on the West Coast. He had travelled with lacrosse back east and he met different tribes and he liked their powwow dancing and outfits. The headdress comes from the Prairie people. It's not strictly from our Squamish tribe."
Baker said while the headdress was a showpiece, it was also like a part of “your family tree,” adding it was “a great feeling” to wear it in front of loved ones “when you're out there dancing in the powwows with all the drums.”
As an ambassador for Air Canada, Baker said his father, Khot-la-cha, or ‘Man with the Kind Heart,’ who was Squamish Nation’s Chief for more than 30 years, travelled all over the world, taking the headdress along with him.
“That headdress has been to a lot of places. If that headdress could talk…” he said with a laugh.
He said his father, who died aged 90 in 2001, was “very well known all over Canada” and was the recipient of many awards including the Order of Canada, and was also inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame for his achievements in lacrosse.
It’s not the first time the Baker family has had precious items returned, either. They’ve also had 100-year-old baskets made by their grandmother handed back after many years.
“A lady in the U.S. had them,” Baker said. “She bought them up here years ago, and handed them down and when she passed away, she had a letter in her will that said, these baskets should go back to the original family. And they honoured that. And it was funny because there were nine kids in our family, and they returned nine baskets.”
Remembering the teachings of his father, Baker said he knew in his heart he would be happy to see the headdress returned.
“My sister and I say, ‘our Indian artifacts make it home after so many years,’” Baker said. “My father always said, ‘If you lose it, it'll come back somewhere in your life.’ And here, it turned out, we get our headdress back after so long.
“Our whole family is so happy because we know that Dad’s smiling up above, looking down knowing it’s come back home.
“Somehow, we know he knows."
Elisia Seeber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Shore News