CHIBOUGAMAU, Que. — Five Cree hunters from northern Quebec have died in a cabin fire in a tragedy described by the Cree leader as an “unfathomable loss.”
Matthew Coon Come identified the victims as David Jimiken, Emmett Coonishish, Chiiwetin Coonishish, Kevin Loon and Charlie Gunner.
“On behalf of the entire Cree nation, I extend our deepest condolences to the families and to the community of Mistissini who must all now find a source of compassion and strength to endure this terrible tragedy and to support one another in a journey of healing,” Coon Come said in a statement.
“At a time of such unfathomable loss, we can only express our deepest sympathies to the families and pray that the knowledge of the full support of the entire Cree nation will help in some way in providing comfort and easing the terrible pain they are suffering.
“Their loss is a loss for the Cree nation and we mourn with them. Their tragedy is the Cree nation’s tragedy.”
Details of how and when the fire began were still unclear.
Bill Namagoose, executive-director of the Grand Council of the Crees, said Gunner was a police constable with the Cree nation government.
He also said one staff member lost a brother, while another lost a husband, but he would not provide any details.
NDP MP Romeo Saganash, who is Cree, rose in the Commons on Thursday to express his condolences.
“There is no greater loss that a family and a community can face than the loss of a youth,” he said in a statement before question period.
“As a father, Mr. Speaker, I can’t even begin to imagine the pain that families and friends are feeling today.
“I want to send my support, my love and our prayers in these trying moments, in this dark time of need. May their memories be a blessing as we collectively attempt to come to terms with this sad and horrible loss.”
Saganash, who represents the federal riding of Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou, said one of his friends lost a son, a brother and three friends in the fire.
Quebec provincial police Sgt. Jean Tremblay said the five were meant to return to Mistissini at the end of March.
When they didn’t turn up, the locals sent out a plane that discovered the burned cabin in nearby Lac-Bussy.
Premier Philippe Couillard also expressed his sympathy.
“I want to convey my deep condolences to the Cree nation for the horrible tragedy that has happened,” he said in Quebec City.
“Circumstances have yet to be determined but for the Cree nation, for the community in Mistissini, it’s a horrible tragedy.”