"They grew up knowing the land, they grew up being out on the land and enjoying the land," Ashley Iserhoff said Thursday. "That was part of their life and who they were and they were just living their life and enjoying what the creator gave us."
Iserhoff, the director of social development for the Cree nation of Mistissini, said the five were supposed to be back in the community this past Monday.
"Usually, they're able to communicate with each other — either through satellite phone or using the bush radio — and there was no form of communication with them," he said in an interview.
Iserhoff said several people, including the father of one victim, took the local community bush plane and flew out to the camp in nearby Lac-Bussy on Wednesday.
When they arrived, they found three of the five bodies. The other two were discovered when provincial police went to the scene Thursday.
Cree leader Matthew Coon Come, who identified the victims as David Jimiken, Emmett Coonishish, Chiiwetin Coonishish, Kevin Loon and Charlie Gunner, described the tragedy as "an unfathomable loss".
"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."
Bill Namagoose, executive-director of the Grand Council of the Crees, said Gunner was a police constable with the Cree nation government.
Iserhoff said he was very well known in the community and was admired by youth in the community.
"He served a number of years with our police detachment here...and he had a lot of young people who looked up to him because he won an award from the Governor General a few years ago for heroism," he said.
Iserhoff said Mistissini has been overcome with grief.
"Everyone knows each other, the community is just overwhelmed and you can feel the grief when you come into the community and the sense of loss. There are a lot of heavy hearts."
There was still no word Thursday how and when the fire began as police continued their investigation.
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 riding of Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou, said one of his friends lost a son, a brother and three friends in the fire.
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."Suggest a correction