Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut June 22, 2017 - 8:00 am

Nunavut community mourns death of elder in cabin fire

Peter Paneak, 83, was an Ilisaqsivik instructor and language teacher

BETH BROWN
Peter Paneak spends time on the land during a recent visit to his cabin outside Clyde River. The burned body of the 83-year-old elder was found amid the ruins of his cabin, June 18, which was destroyed in a fire. (PHOTO COURTESY REESIE CHURCHILL)
Peter Paneak spends time on the land during a recent visit to his cabin outside Clyde River. The burned body of the 83-year-old elder was found amid the ruins of his cabin, June 18, which was destroyed in a fire. (PHOTO COURTESY REESIE CHURCHILL)
Peter Paneak enjoys a piece of muktuk after a bowhead hunt in 2014. (FILE PHOT0)
Peter Paneak enjoys a piece of muktuk after a bowhead hunt in 2014. (FILE PHOT0)

Clyde River elder Peter Paneak built a cabin for his late wife so they could spend time on the land.

But on June 18 his body was found amidst the ashes of that cabin, located around 65 kilometres outside of town, at about 8:30 p.m.

“He was one of the pillars of the community of Clyde River,” said daughter Reesie Churchill. 

She visited the cabin with her father recently to go through the belongings of her mother Regilee Paneak, who died in January of cancer.

“He built that cabin for my mom. He really took care of his wife,” she said. 

But this time Paneak went by himself.

“He liked to go out on the land a couple of times a year to have his alone time,” said Churchill. 

The cause of the fire is unknown, though Churchill said a heart attack is likely to have been the cause of death. The RCMP in Clyde River and the Office of the Chief Coroner for Nunavut are investigating.

The community of about 1,050 will be mourning the loss of the elderly resident, who worked as an elders instructor at the Ilisaqsivik Society family resource centre.

“He held down a full time job even though he was 83,” said Churchill, who added that Paneak regularly travelled around the territory for elders meetings. 

He worked teaching Inuktitut language, and also spoke English and French. Churchill, who also works in Inuit language instruction, would call him whenever she had questions about traditional language.

Paneak was mayor of Clyde River for a time. He worked for five years at the Nanisivik mine site, and was one of the first garbage collectors in the community, gathering garbage in the town by dogsled.

“He always helped in the church as a lay reader, all his adult life,” said Churchill. 

Paneak had 17 children—10 biological and seven adopted. Six of his children have since passed away.

The RCMP told Nunatsiaq News June 21 that more information will be provided following the ongoing investigation.

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