Museum curator reunites Indigenous veteran with artwork 62 years later – the Hosaqami connection

Photos from 2012 Hosaqami raising. In celebration of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II”s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, then-Lieutenant Governor Stephen Point and the Government House Foundation commissioned Chief Tony Hunt to carve a replacement for Hosaqami. Guests assist with the raising of the Pole Hosaqami at the front of the Government.

Peter Mallett, 
Staff Writer

A recent presentation at CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum led to the return of an item to the hands of its crafter 62 years later.

Following Lieutenant-Commander (Retired) Bill Shead’s presentation on Hosaqami, a historic 24-foot totem pole, Tatiana Robinson, Museum Curator, brought his attention to one of the Museum’s artifacts.

“What a delight it was to see it and hold it again after 12 years of not knowing its final disposition,” Shead, 83, said after confirming a lance Robinson pointed out was indeed the one he carved so many years ago. “It was quite a surprise to learn the lance was in good hands of a museum curator after all this time.”

Shead, an Indigenous veteran, visited CFB Esquimalt on Aug. 29 to speak about the intriguing story of Hosaqami. This totem pole was given to the Royal Navy in 1960, and Shead was on the voyage to England as one of the Special Escort of the Hosaqami delivery on HMCS St. Croix. On his journey, he and his mates carved and decorated mop handles to create lances for the ceremonial presentation on arrival in England.

Robinson was equally surprised about the discovery.

“His life’s story as a sailor and connection to Hosaqami is very intriguing,” Robinson said. “At how many points in his life was he connected and reconnected with Hosaqami and how unusual is that.”

During his presentation, Shead spoke about his connection with Hosaqami.

“At the outset, no one really had any inkling of what role the escort would or should play in the ceremony,” he said. “The members of the escort, including myself, came from several different Indigenous and cultural language groups across Canada, and no one was from the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest with their rich traditions relating to the totem pole carving and ceremony.”

“We drew mop handles from the ship’s stores to carve into lances,” Shead said. “We then painted them and decorated them with feathers, dropped by birds on the deck of the ship.”

During a ceremony in 2012 to honour the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the Royal Canadian Navy gifted a replica of the original Hosaqami to the Crown and the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. Shead and two other fellow escort members from 1960 were there to participate in the new dedication and presented the lances Shead had made aboard St. Croix all those years ago to Admiral Trulove.

“I indicated to him I had missed returning the mop handle on my charge to ship’s stores and perhaps he would see it was returned to its proper place,” Shead said.

Shead served 36 years in the Royal Canadian Navy and is a proud member of the Peguis First Nation (in Manitoba), a community leader, former mayor of Selkirk, Man., and Regional Director General for Veterans Affairs Canada. While visiting Victoria, Shead made his presentation on Hosaqami as a volunteer speaker on behalf of Historica Canada’s Memory Project.

“The Hosaqami is a connection between the Navy and Indigenous community that is historically lasting,” Shead said during his visit.

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