British Columbia

Sacred pipes stolen from Indigenous elders after they were evacuated from their home near B.C.'s Highway 8

Cook's Ferry Indian Band elder Jeanie York is asking the public for help in recovering the two medicine pipes belonging to her husband, Victor York, former chief of the Lower Nicola Indian Band.

Jeanie York says her husband, former chief of the Lower Nicola Indian Band, kept both pipes for many years

Cook's Ferry Indian Band elder Jeanie York says she and her husband lost two medicine pipes to theft during their stay at a Kamloops hotel on Dec. 2. (Submitted by Jeanie York)

Not long after Jeanie York and her husband, Victor York evacuated their home near Highway 8 during November's devastating floods, they discovered two sacred medicine pipes — among the few valuables they were able to take from their home — had been stolen.

"We are evacuees. It's just unbelievable. It's just one more thing that you have to deal with — a violation of your personal belongings," York, a Cook's Ferry Indian Band elder, told host Sarah Penton on CBC's Radio West.

Now York is asking the public for help in recovering the pipes, one of which she describes as having a tall, stone bowl and a wooden stem, and the other made of red stone with a red bowl. 

The medicine pipes are sacred artifacts in Indigenous communities, and are often used in ceremonies.

York says her husband, former chief of the Lower Nicola Indian Band, kept both pipes for many years. One was a community pipe given to him by a friend in Manitoba. 

"He received that pipe to help heal the community," she said.

The pipes were stored in a brown leather satchel, which York had placed in a garbage bag she was using during a brief return home to pick up some of their belongings. 

"My older son and I went there and we just had a little while to pick up some items ... All I could do was pack things in garbage bags 'cause that's the easiest, rather than boxes. So I packed up some clothes, and Victor requested a few items, and he definitely valued that."

According to Louise Moses, a friend of the couple's, several bags — one of which included the pipes — were stolen on Dec. 2 from the Yorks' rental vehicle, which was parked at the Kamloops hotel they were staying at.

A window on the passenger side was broken, but York said she didn't realize the two artifacts were among the items stolen until later, when they arrived at the Merritt, B.C. home of Victor's relatives and unpacked their belongings.

She said the pipes mean a lot to her husband, who also has cancer. 

"He's been in an emergency back and forth for a couple of days, but he's taking it in stride," she said. "He's not able to talk … but he tries to stay positive."

So does she. "I'm hanging in there, trying to be strong," she said.

In an emailed statement to CBC, Kamloops RCMP say they received the report about the Yorks' pipes on Dec. 6. They have not identified suspects from video surveillance.

The Mounties ask anyone with any information about the pipes to contact them at 250-828-3000.

With files from Radio West