Back in June, one of our officers received a call from a member of the public who had noticed a headdress up for auction at a thrift store in Okotoks. It’s not uncommon for Fish and Wildlife Enforcement to receive calls about what appear to be traditional feather headdresses, but in most cases, they’re found to be inauthentic. Officer Marasco was able to confirm that this particular headdress, which was donated anonymously, was made of real golden eagle feathers. Although the headdress looked to be about 100 years old, the feathers and beadwork were largely intact and it was in good condition.
Officer Marasco took possession of the headdress under the authority of the Wildlife Act and got to work tracking down where the item had come from, and who it rightfully belonged to. There was one clue: a note accompanying the headdress indicating it had once been in the family of an individual whose father had been a teacher in the residential school system in an area north of Red Deer in the late 1890-1900’s. This indicated that the headdress could easily be over 100 years old.
After consulting with experts at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, who identified the artifact as a ceremonial Blackfoot headdress, Officer Marasco was put in touch with Kent Ayoungman, an active member of the Blackfoot sacred societies, who handles re-appropriated traditional items. Over the following months, Ayoungman will work to restore the headdress to something close to its original condition, so that it can once more fulfill its true purpose and be used in traditional ceremonies.
If you come across a similar item that you’re not sure about, we encourage you call your local fish and wildlife office. Lots of these items can be sold legally, but it’s still best to get in touch as soon as possible. If not dealt with quickly, the item might get sold, and once that happens, it can be very hard to track it down again.