GJOA HAVEN, NUNAVUT – When James Dulac’s friend passed away in 2019, his body was kept like others in his northern Nunavut community – in a warehouse with no heat or electricity.
Dulac, who lives in Gjoa Haven, said he was shocked to see his friend’s frozen body in a bag and covered in blood on the warehouse floor.
“(His) body in an RCMP plastic bag, lying on the frozen ground. Another body was also lying on the ground with his head resting on (his) legs,” Dulac wrote in a letter in January. last year for Tony Akoak, his member. of the legislative assembly of the territory.
His friend’s limbs were twisted and frozen in place, unable to get him into the coffin. Instead, he had to be placed in a cardboard box, Dulac said.
With no morgue to place bodies in, the community of about 1,300 people uses an old barn, which Dulac describes as a receptacle with a window on top.
“When someone dies, there’s nowhere to put them. They walk on the floor, and if there’s more than one, the other will move on,” Dulac told The Canadian Press.
Not much has changed since he wrote to Akoak, Dulac said. Another friend of Akoak who recently passed away is in a similar situation.
“There were two other bodies lying on his feet. One on his leg, one on his leg. It was unbelievable,” he said.
“I tried to clean him up, but he was frozen. Just heartbreaking.”
Dulac would like to see a new space built with a body preparation area, as well as a room for people to pray.
Akoak said the warehouse has been used as a morgue for as long as he can remember. He said he has raised the issue in parliament six times, most recently this fall, but nothing has changed.
“I hope that this will be the last time that I need to lift it,” Akoak told the council in September.
“Not a pretty sight to see if you go into that building.”
The village of Gjoa Haven has applied to the Nunavut government to pay for a morgue through a program called the Small Capital Fund, which supports projects up to $250,000.
Jeannie Ehaloak, Nunavut’s minister of government and community services at the time, told Akoak that Gjoa Haven applied too late, missing the September 1 deadline, so the request was denied.
The next funding deadline is April 1, Ehaloak said.
“We want to let them rest respectfully. I really want that. But I guess we’ll have to wait another year for that to happen,” Akoak said.
Community and government services purchased two mobile morgues in May 2020, but it’s unclear what they did with them. Each one costs about $77,000.
The department did not respond to a request for comment on Gjoa Haven’s application or on how many other Nunavut communities need a morgue or have applied for funding to build one.
At this point, he’s calling on both the federal and territorial governments for help, Dulac said.
“Ask them down south in Toronto or Ottawa or Montreal if they’ll accept a container as a morgue. Why us?
“What makes them different from us?”
This report by the Canadian Press was first published on November 24, 2021
This story was made possible with the financial support of Facebook and the Canada Press News Fellowship.