A First Nation headdress that was supposed to be used for an inauguration ceremony before it went missing four months ago has been found sitting in Winnipeg's Canada Post depot.
"We're just really, really delighted that we were able to make sure that something so sacred and culturally valuable is reunited with the family that it belongs to," said Myron May, who works at the Canada Post processing plant near the airport.
A Métis co-worker of May found the headdress Monday night in a storage area with no markings saying who it belonged to.
"Being of Métis descent, he understood the importance of sacred items and said something should be done about it. He brought it to my attention, knowing I'm a long time Bear Clan member," May said.
The men gently put the headdress in a box with a tobacco offering and set it in a more secured area of the plant. They then received permission from management to post a plea on social media to find the rightful owner.
"We though perhaps through the power of messaging and communication we can get that done," said May, who was shocked at how fast everything worked out.
"It just exploded. I was getting 100 hits every half hour from people saying they were sharing the story or the plea."
The Bear Clan put it on their members' feed, which led to various Indigenous groups, including the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, also picking it up.
"It was a flurry of activity. I've never seen anything like it," May said.
Within three hours, they received a response from Darrin Cameron, who was supposed to receive the headdress in November but instead ended up with a plastic bag containing a torn box and apology note from Canada Post.
"I thought this thing was gone. I'm really glad somebody knew what it was and decided to put that [post] out there," he said.
Cameron, who lives on Long Plain First Nation about 100 kilometres west of Winnipeg, had been asked last fall by a chief about repairing the headdress.
Cameron had been doing repairs for a few years but couldn't work on it at the time so he sent it to a friend in Alberta.
The friend sent it back a few weeks later and that's when Cameron received his tattered box. He called the toll-free Canada Post number and was told they would look for the missing headdress.
A few days later he was told there was no trace and was offered a reimbursement for the shipping cost.
"I said, 'well, we can't put a price on it because it's priceless. You can't put a price on something like that,'" he said.
A promise to look more and a few more check-in calls ended with Canada Post telling Cameron "they're sorry, there's nothing they can do," he said.
"I was very upset, for sure, but I was upset for the gentleman who was supposed to receive it. I didn't know what to tell him, and would he believe me that this item was lost in the mail?" Cameron said, adding the chief was stunned but didn't blame him.
Cameron sent a photo of the box and letter to the chief as well his Alberta friend, who was angry because of all the work he had done.
The incident had turned from an unfortunate incident into a bad memory when Cameron was alerted on Monday to the Facebook post.
"It was just sitting there all that time," he said.
He messaged May and then sent along a photo of the headdress as well as the Canada Post apology letter.
May confirmed it was the one but had to tell Cameron one side of the headdress was damaged. What happened, May suspects, is that the box became caught in the computerized belt system that runs through the 200,000-square-foot sorting area.
The headdress fell out while the box then continued through the system. Either the cleaning crew or an employee from one of the three shifts at the plant found it and set it in the storage area, May believes.
"Sometimes there's a little bit of a disconnect when it comes to communication," May said, adding the plant also became extremely busy at that time, when Manitoba went into the code red COVID-19 restrictions.
That led to an explosion of packages going through the system by people who turned to online shopping instead.
"I've been at Canada Post for 35 years and I've never seen anything remotely close to how busy we were," May said, "but it's a happy ending to a story."
Cameron is now making arrangements to pick up the headdress on the weekend. But he'll have to send it back to Alberta again for repairs.
This time, though, he's going to send it by courier.