On September 19, 2014, the Alert Bay RCMP responded to a report of a break and enter to a property in Alert Bay, British Columbia.

Police were advised that a traditional mask carving had been stolen from the owner’s shed. The mask depicts Huxhukw, one of three bird masks used by the peoples of the Kwakwaka’wakw in Hamatsa ceremonies. It is described as having a long beak of 5 feet in length, painted in bright colours, and modelled on one currently held by the UBC Museum of Anthropology (see attached photograph).

The use of these mask carvings in ceremonies were prohibited in Canada from the late 1800’s until 1951, and during that time many were seized. While some were returned to respective First Nations, others are currently held by both public and private collections. As a result, these masks hold special cultural and historical significance to the Kwakwaka’wakw peoples today.

It is likely that the suspect in possession of this carved mask may attempt to sell it to a third party such as a gallery or private collector. Anyone in possession of this item, knowing it was obtained through a break, enter and theft, may themselves be committing a crime.

Police are requesting any information pertaining to the location of this carved mask, so that it may be returned to the rightful owner for its continued use in these important ceremonies. Also, Police are seeking any information leading to the identification and arrest of the suspect(s) responsible for this crime.

Anyone with information is urged to contact Constable Andrew Curtis of the Alert Bay RCMP at 250-974-5544 or anonymously through Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS(8477).

Photo courtesy of the UBC Museum of Anthropology

– Contributed by the RCMP.