NEWS

Cree Nation gathers at Mistissini funeral for 5 hunters

04/27/2015 05:45 EDT | Updated 08/01/2015 01:59 EDT
The Cree Nation finally got a chance to say goodbye Saturday to five hunters who died in a cabin fire almost a month ago. 

Hundreds gathered in the Neoskweskau Complex Arena in Mistissini on Saturday in a moving tribute to Chiiwetin Coonishish, 22, Emmett Coonishish, 39, Charlie Gunner, 37, Kevin Loon, 33, and David Jimiken, 38. 

The men were found dead on April 1 in a hunting cabin that had been destroyed by fire at Bussy Lake, about 300 kilometres north of Chibougamau.

The families were able to move ahead with the funeral after the Quebec coroner's office positively identified the remains of all five men late last week.

"My wife asked me asked me to go to Chibougamau to the funeral home and pick up my boy and bring him home so he could sleep one more time with us at our home," said Jason Coonishish, father of Chiiwetin Coonishish and brother of Emmett. 

"It was a good night. We had fun. the whole family. We made a little display for him. It felt like he was there with us before we laid him to rest." 

Overwhelmed by support

Mourners bussed, drove or flew in from all over Eeyou Istchee and beyond for the service for the five hunters. The community came together to make sure all the guests had a place to stay and something to eat.

"I'm overwhelmed today to see the amount of support that we have for our community and for the families as well," said Mistissini Chief Richard Shecapio. "All the visitors that came to be here as we honour and celebrate the lives of our beloved hunters. I'm grateful to see that. I know it meant a lot for the families to see that amount of support." 

Shecapio went on to quote another community member: "The Cree Nation is like a family and when a community such as Mistissini faces grief and sorrow, you know all the other Cree Nation communities feel the sorrow and grief as well."

One of the busloads of people came from the Cree community of Nemaska, whose chief said the tragedy was felt by many. 

"We stand together and mourn together," said Nemaska Chief Thomas Jolly, adding he knew right away he would bring some of his community members to the service. "Because of the extent of the tragedy in Mistissini, I think it was felt right across Canada, particularly in First Nations communities."

A feast and memorials were held after the funeral service, where some video tributes came in from Moose Factory.  Some young rappers from Mistissini did a tribute, along with some the Wemindji Women's Choir Singers, who came by bus to attend this "funeral and celebration."  

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

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