Break-in at U’mista Centre

Thieves make off with jewelry from U'mista Cultural Centre

ALERT BAY—National Aboriginal Day got off to a rocky start at U’mista Cultural Centre last week, when employees opened the doors to find several items of jewelry had been stolen in an overnight break-in .

Alert Bay RCMP are seeking information from anybody in the community who may have information on the incident, which occurred overnight late June 20 or early June 21.

“We’re looking to review video surveillance and we’ve made inquiries into the community, but right now we don’t have any solid leads,” Alert Bay RCMP Cpl. Mike Carey said Tuesday.

The U’mista Cultural Centre is a museum and heritage/education facility that holds numerous historical artifacts recovered after they were confiscated from banned potlatches, before the potlach prohibition was lifted in 1951.

Fortunately for the centre, the theft was limited to jewelry pieces, though the value of the property exceeds $5,000.

“Thankfully, none of the potlatch collection, the masks and carved art, were taken,” said Carey.

The thief or thieves appear to have gained access to the centre through a window. The entry was unforced, but Carey said there was some property damage to the facility in the gift shop.

Centre manager Sarah Holland was traveling this week and unavailable for comment. But staff said the centre remained open for regular hours Thursday as police started their investigation and debris was removed.

The U’mista Cultural Centre opened in 1980 to ensure the survival of the cultural heritage of the Kwakwaka’wakw peoples. It serves as a repository for artifacts taken from Cormorant Island and dispersed to museums and private collections around the world during the first half of the 20th century, and its potlatch collection of masks, breastplates and other carved works is world-renown.

Anyone with information on the break-in is encouraged to contact Alert Bay RCMP at 250-974-5544 or call Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS. Your call will be anonymous.