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‘Priceless’ hat stolen from Indigenous art store in Campbell River during break-in

Ernie Smith, co-owner of Awatin Aboriginal Art, looking for help in recovering stolen hat
Ernie Smith, co-owner of Awatin Aboriginal Art, is shown wearing a traditional Nuu-chah-nulth hat that he says was stolen on Feb. 6. Photo by Ryan Dawson

A traditional cedar hat was stolen from Awatin Aboriginal Arts during a break-in earlier this month, according to the store’s co-owner.

Ernie Smith is asking locals to keep an eye out for the hat, which was made by his cousin Andrea Little, a Nuu-chah-nulth basket weaver.

“She made it specifically for me,” he said. “It was very, very fine work.”

The cedar hat is made in the traditional style of the Nuu-chah-nulth, a group of Indigenous peoples whose traditional territories cover a large area of Vancouver Island.

A sacred eagle feather wrapped in cedar bark hangs from the back of the hat, and a large abalone shell is on the front. Fabric woven into the hat in circle patterns makes it unique, Smith said.

The hat itself is worth over $1,000 but the personal nature of the hat makes it priceless, Smith said. Since it includes an eagle feather, it can’t be sold under conservation law, he added.

He said that a friend reported that it was on sale on a website in Nanaimo, but the posting was soon taken down.

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The store, located the Island Highway near Robert V. Ostler Park, was broken into around 2 a.m. on Feb. 6.

Smith said he didn’t realize the hat was missing at first because of the sheer number of items in the store. Other articles might have been stolen but haven’t been noticed yet.

Goods damaged during the break-in included a print by Wei Wai Kum artist Mark Henderson, who died in 2016. The print was damaged beyond repair, Smith said.

A carved fir door that was on sale for $4,000 by Quadra Island-based artist Michael Price was also damaged.

Smith credited the police for their quick response, saying they prevented further losses.

As for damage to the store, three windows were broken, and repairs are likely to cost $800 or more, according to Smith.

“There was just glass everywhere,” he said. “We were all day and all night cleaning up.”

Smith is asking anyone with information about the incident or the whereabouts of the hat to contact the RCMP.


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Images posted by Ernie Smith to social media show him wearing a traditional hat that he says was stolen from Awatin Aboriginal Art on Feb. 6. He’s asking anyone with information to come forward. Photos by Darlene Smith, except photo at right by Ryan Dawson