Sale of First Nations Family Masks is Cause for Concern

Posted on January 24, 2013


Screen Shot 2013-01-23 at 5.59.05 PMTwo cedar masks considered sacred to a Hupacasath family have recently been sold to an unknown collector. The colorful masks, known as hinkeets, had been passed down maternal lines of the family for over a century before being sold by Seahawk Auctions of Vancouver.

The masks were taken to the action house by the very woman who was appointed to keep them safe. According to former chief of the Hupacasath First Nation, Victoria Judith Sayers, “Someone is appointed as keeper of the regalia and their job is to make sure they are used properly.”

The sale was able to occur because the masks were brought in by a member of the family that owned the masks, and the woman had documents which tended to prove that they were willed to her. The woman was reportedly well versed in protocol and knew exactly what she was doing. She received a total of $26,500 for the two masks, before leaving for India where she cannot be contacted.

The sale has prompted aboriginal leaders to push for changes in B.C. law to protect other First Nations families from the same fate. According to Sayers, “I think the law has to make provisions for collective ownership by families . . . It needs to be in a discussion paper for amendments to the Heritage Conservation Act.”