Ottawa, Canada: It must have looked like a decent haul for a quick thief: two duffel bags sitting in an unlocked car in a west-side parking lot. Inside one of the bags was camera equipment.
But what was inside the other bag was far more important to its owner: a pipe and an eagle feather, ceremonial objects sacred in First Nations spirituality.
Ottawa police are investigating the theft of the bags earlier this week, and Thursday asked for the public's help in finding the sacred objects. The duffel bags were taken between Dec. 8 and Dec. 10, while a vehicle belonging to a Michigan man was parked in the 1300 block of Carling Avenue, police said.
In many native American cultures, the eagle is a messenger of prayer, says Patrick Augustine, a member of the board of the Odawa Native Friendship Centre.
"Because it flies the highest in the sky, people believe the eagle can carry a person's prayers to the creator," said Mr. Augustine, a graduate student and traditional dancer. The case holding the feather is symbolic as well.
"You could compare it to something like the tabernacle in a Catholic church," says Mr. Augustine. "It's a home to the spirit of the eagle feather."
Eagle feathers are usually bestowed to mark an important event or contribution, and the giving of the feather is considered an honour.
It's an even greater honour to receive a red stone pipe, said Mr. Augustine. "I was following the traditional ways for five or seven years before I acquired the knowledge base and understanding enough to be given a pipe."
The stone pipe is used to burn tobacco or sweetgrass during smudging ceremonies or sweat lodge ceremonies.
"When you're a pipe carrier, you look at it as you would a grandfather or grandmother, with a certain reverence. We believe our ancestors are returning in spirit and their spirits are embodied in these objects. We are asking our ancestors' spirits to mitigate on our behalf with the creator, to help carry our message to the creator for us.
"Losing these objects would feel like you'd failed in your duty to look after them," said Mr. Augustine.
Police do not believe the ceremonial items were targeted, but that doesn't take away the sense of loss Mr. Augustine imagines the owner is feeling.
"For someone to have their sacred pipe stolen, it must be very traumatic," says Mr. Augustine. "It would feel like a violation, not only against a person, but against the culture. If it happened to me, I'd feel a deep sadness."
Anyone with information is asked to call Ottawa police at 613-236-1222, ext. 2266, or Crime Stoppers at 613-233-8477.