Nunavik drowning spurs call for community pool
Man, 25, drowned Aug. 12 in Akulivik River
An Akulivik man says his community needs a pool and trained lifeguards to help prevent future drownings in the Nunavik community of about 600 people.
Davidee Qaqutuk is mourning the loss of a long-time friend and neighbour, who drowned Aug. 12 in a river that flows through the community and into Hudson Bay.
Qaqutuk would rather not use his friend’s name, out of respect for the family, but his Facebook page shows photos of the two on hunting trips.
“We’re going to miss you,” Qaqutuk wrote in an Aug. 13 post.
The 25-year-old victim went for a swim Aug. 12 at a popular spot along a stretch of the Akulivik River where the water is the warmest.
It took responders almost an hour to recover the man.
The water in that area isn’t particularly deep, nor is the current very strong, but Qaqutuk said his friend is the fourth person to drown there over the last decade.
In 2005 a nine-year old boy drowned in Akulivik when he and a group of friends were playing by a river near the village.
Over the last ten years, one other child has drowned, along with another man in his twenties, Qaqutuk said.
And besides the four deaths, countless other children have had to be rescued while they were swimming in the same place, Qaqutuk said.
“This has to stop,” he said. “I can’t bear to see this happen to other families.”
“But it’s mostly likely to happen again if we don’t do anything about this.”
So Qaqutuk is making a plea to Akulivimmiut and regional organizations to help the community build a public swimming pool.
That kind of infrastructure would offer a safe place for residents to cool off in the summertime and even learn swimming skills with the help of a lifeguard.
A few years ago, the northern village had put aside $100,000 to invest in a pool facility, Qaqutuk said, but couldn’t secure any other funding to move forward with the project.
Roughly half of Nunavik’s 14 communities have public indoor pools, built with funds from the individual northern villages, the Kativik Regional Government’s infrastructure fund and occasionally through Quebec.
Qaqutuk estimates that constructing a pool would cost about $300,000, although other communities have sunk well over a million dollars into their indoor facilities, including Salluit’s $10 million pool complex.
And then operating costs alone are usually the responsibility of the northern villages; in Kuujjuarapik, the pool has in past years required about $250,000 annually to staff — often with lifeguards from the South — and to maintain.
Upkeep is not easy in a Northern environment; pool structures in some Nunavik communities have shifted from their foundations over the winter, while Quaqtaq’s pool has had to close temporarily due to mold issues.
But in Akulivik, where half of the population is under 19 years of age, Qaqutuk said it’s too critical to risk more drownings.
“I don’t want this to be ignored,” he said.
Earlier this month in Nunavut, the territory’s chief coroner made a public warning to Nunavummiut to be careful about swimming in cold water and strong currents.
Four people have drowned in Nunavut between June and early August, all between the ages of 17 and 25.
In response, Nunavut’s Office of the Chief Coroner has recommended that authorities coordinate water safety campaigns and offer education of water survival techniques and drowning prevention in the communities.