The Nunavik Bravery Award is given to nominated Nunavimmiut who risk their lives to try to save or protect another. This year, seven individuals were recognized for their efforts. The awards are usually announced at Makivvik’s Annual General Meeting and brought back to the individuals by community representatives.
Following are the 2021 recipients of the Nunavik Bravery Award:
Willie Cain Jr., from Tasiujaq, was nominated for saving the life of John-Samuel MacKay. Last December, John-Samuel joined Willie and his eight-year-old son Robbie Kulula Cain to help set nets under the ice on Finger Lake. They were returning home by snowmobile across the large lake at night when they encountered blizzard conditions. John-Samuel was separated from the Cains and ended up running into a large area of open water. He managed to pull himself from the water, but his clothes were soaked, and he was at risk of hypothermia. Unknown to him at the time, 10 kilometres away, Willie and Robbie were low on gasoline, and had to make a decision. They could either ride into town to gas up and get help, losing valuable time, or turn back immediately and risk running out of gas and/or getting lost in the blizzard, putting three people’s lives in danger rather than one. In the end, Willie listened to his gut, and to his son’s advice, and turned back, knowing that something very serious had happened. After reaching John-Samuel the trio struggled in the blizzard to find the trail again and rode a further five kilometres to Willie’s cabin at Qamanialuk Lake, about 12 kilometres south of Tasiujaq. Willie went into town to get firewood, hot beverages, and helpers to haul the snowmobile from the water, while Robbie stayed with John-Samuel who was wrapped up in blankets and slowly beginning to warm up.
Tamusi Mina, 11, and Anne Maria Mina, 8, from Inukjuak, were nominated for saving the lives of their parents, who were ejected from their canoe after hitting a rock. A group of 12 canoes were travelling to Qikirtaaluk, and all arrived safely except for Eric Kasudluak, his spouse Lucy Mina, and their children Juanasi Mina, 10, Janice Mina, 5, Anne Maria Mina, 8, and Tamusi Mina, 11. They had gone to Quurngukutaak first, near Qikirtaaluk, to pick up their belongings. While travelling in their large freighter canoe, they hit a rock and Eric and Lucy were thrown out of their canoe and into the water. The canoe kept moving and Tamusi took control of the wheel while Anne Maria adjusted the throttle. Together they managed to turn around from afar and return to Eric and Lucy who were close to exhaustion in the water.
Markusi Uqaituk, 45, from Inukjuak, was nominated for saving his 12-year-old son who had fallen from a boat. Markusi saw his son, Jusipi Iqaluk, slip into the water from the moving boat and jumped in to rescue him. He kept him afloat while others tried to get to them by canoe, but the motor wouldn’t start, so they paddled to them and brought them to safety.
Tommy Kudluk Saunders, from Kuujjuaq, was nominated for saving the late Pasha Makiuk and Mary Makiuk Whitely, who was a baby in Pasha’s amautik at the time, after they broke through the ice and almost drowned. In the late 1950s, Tommy and his new wife Pasha were fishing at False River soon after freeze up, when the ice was still very thin. The tide coming in at that time was extremely powerful and a wave of water flowed up stream on top of the new ice. It rose so rapidly that Pasha and Mary were unable to get to the shore. Tommy was able to quickly cut some trees to use as stabilizing posts and got close enough to pull Pasha and Mary to safety. Tommy then built a big fire to dry off before hypothermia could set in, and eventually used his brother’s dog team to bring Pasha and Mary to the tent camp further upstream to fully dry out.
Lizzie Lisa Echalook and Lucassie Echalook, from Inukjuak, were nominated for saving Lizzie Lisa’s grandmother Martha, after she fell through the ice and into the water while fishing in the spring. Lizzie Lisa couldn’t pull Martha from the water as she was a small child at the time, and although exhausted, she managed to cling on to Martha’s hand. Martha was halfway in the water and was beginning to get covered by the ilaujait (crystalized ice), when she was eventually pulled out by Lucassie Echalook (Martha’s husband), who using his expert hunting skills, managed to reach both Lizzie Lisa and Martha without breaking through the ice.