Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, April 05, 2015

A Knife in the Heart of the Community

"I had no clue what was going on. All I knew was that my brother Charlie [Gunner] left to go hunting with his friends. I didn't expect bad news ... That's when I found out what they had discovered over there. That the cabin had burned completely, that they were certain that they saw three bodies."
"I didn't really want to take it in at first. I wanted to believe that he was on his way to come tell us. Maybe he got lost somewhere. I didn't want to believe it. That night, I was still expecting him."
Beatrice Gunner, officer, Mistissini police department 
Five Cree hunters from northern Quebec died in a cabin fire in Lac-Bussy, Que. Quebec provincial police say a search began when the five failed to return as scheduled to Mistissini at the end of March and a plane sent out by locals discovered the burned cabin in Lac-Bussy.  THE CANADIAN PRESS
"It was like a knife that cut deep into the heart of the community."
"These were men with a deep love of the land, with a deep love of their fellow man. They were good men, they gave back to the community."
Reverend George Westgate, Mistissini Anglican Church

"There is no greater loss that a family and a community can face than the loss of a youth."
"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."
Member of Parliament Romeo Saganash, House of Commons (federal riding of Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik)

The men died in a hunting cabin on Bussy Lake, a popular hunting and fishing area for many Cree in Mistissini, a Cree town 90 kilometres northeast of Chibougamau. The five young men went off on a hunting trip, heading for Bussy Lake, where they planned to say at a hunting cabin located there. The area where the fire occurred is 200 kilometres north of Mistissini, a popular destination for hunters despite the distance. During the winter, the last third of the trip to Bussy Lake is accessible only by snowmobile.

Or by plane, and the Cree villagers were so concerned when the five men with families -- friends who enjoyed seasonal hunting expeditions in each other's company -- didn't return from their trip at a reasonable time that they sent out a search party. Even taking into account the distance involved, they knew these were skilled outdoorsmen whose decision to go out moose hunting passing deep into the spruce forest to reach Bussy Lake, it shouldn't have taken a week for them to return. Which accounts for the town dispatching a bush plane to search out the wilderness for the missing men.

Cree deceased from Mistissini
Montreal Gazette
They succeeded in finding the whereabouts  of the men, David Jimiken, Emmett Coonishish, Chiiwetin Coonishish, Kevin Loon and police officer Charlie Gunner. And though the five hunters hadn't returned within the 48 hours they were expected back at their Cree village, it didn't take long for the search party to return, to inform the assembled villagers at Elder's Point, that they had found the log cabin burned to the ground, with three burned bodies within what was once a sturdy, intact cabin, now just a charred remainder. 

Mistissini police later announced they had discovered the whereabouts of the last two bodies. Investigators with the provincial Surete du Quebec will use family blood samples for positive DNA identification. About 800 kilometres north of Montreal, the village's loss has shocked the entire Cree Nation. Extended family, friends and sympathizers began to arrive in the silent, mourning village from across the James Bay area to attend a memorial service as heavy sleet howled in off Lake Mistissini.

Five years ago, Charlie Gunner, a member of the town's police force, had confronted with his partner a man who had been stalking the streets firing a shotgun. When face to face with the gunman, who fired at them, Charlie's legs and his face were pierced with steel pellets. He raised himself from the ground and ran over to where a few civilians were standing, screaming for them to take immediate cover. For his selfless dedication to safeguarding the security of civilians he was honoured by Gov.Gen. David Johnston, with the Medal of Bravery.

"At that time, when he got shot, he only told us the next morning. I remember he was at the hospital, his face was all bloody, but he told us not to worry ... he really didn't want us to worry. That was Charlie", his sister reminisced in her grief. The youngest among the five doomed men was Chiiwetin Coonishish, 22, well liked, a family man, active outdoorsmen and skilled hockey player. His uncle Emmett drove a snow plow and worked as a heavy machine operator.
"Emmett wanted to go into business with Charlie and Charlie was thinking about taking a break from the police force to work on the highways. He was always bugging me about that, he really wanted to work with his friend. They were close", recalled Charlie's uncle, Joseph Gunner. Friends also spoke of the kind and gentle man that was David Jimiken, another heavy machine operator.

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