Eeyou Istchee mourns Waskaganish hunting party

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As the search for missing hunters from the community of Waskaganish continues into its third week, grim reality has begun to set in after two of the four men were discovered drowned.

First, the body of 48-year-old Patrick Salt was recovered October 19, not far from where a capsized boat, along with a few bags and coolers, were found on the shore of Rupert Bay. It was the first sign that a massive search-and-rescue mission by the Eeyou Eenou Police Force (EEPF), the Department of National Defence and the Sûreté de Québec would not have a happy ending.

Over 300 volunteers, rescue workers and community members gathered on the Waskaganish bayshore October 25 to recognize the lives and community contributions of the four missing men. Organized by the Waskaganish band council, locals and members of surrounding communities showed support for the families of the men and encouraged the search-and-rescue teams to persevere. Across Eeyou Istchee and throughout Quebec, people took moments of silence and assembled to pray for the safe return of those who had not yet been found.

Unfortunately, on October 28, a second body was found 2.5 km southeast of Stag Rock, closer to the mouth of Rupert Bay. That day at 5:15 pm the EEPF received a call saying that 43-year-old William Diamond, son of William and Margaret, had been recovered and identified by a family member.

The search for Kenneth Salt, 67, and Gabriel Shecapio, 30, was still ongoing at press time. But more than three weeks after the men set out into the bay, few remain optimistic they will be found alive. At least two men – husbands, brothers, sons and family leaders – lost their lives while hunting geese to provide for their family and community.

Hundreds of people from across Quebec volunteered to help with the search while others supported the search-and-rescue mission by providing food and shelter. Eastmain supplied a boat and a team of divers, Nemaska sent a busload of people and supplies, and volunteers have travelled from Chisasibi, Moose Factory and beyond to join the search – one group came all the way from Kahnawake.

On foot, by ATV, boat and airplane, they tirelessly scoured the water and shores of Rupert Bay, at times being forced to wait out high tides and rough winds.

If anything positive has emerged from the tragedy it’s the underlying sense of community support and resilience shown by those all across Eeyou Istchee.

“The Cree Nation, we support each other,” said Myles Blackned, EEPF Investigator for the Southern District. “If it was the other way around, Waskaganish would do the same thing.”

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