Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Around the Arctic June 18, 2014 - 7:24 am

ArcticNet mourns death of Nunavik country foods researcher

Dewailly was "always available for the Inuit," said Nunavik's health department

Éric Dewailly's research often focused on the risks and benefits of a traditional Inuit diet. (PHOTO COURTESY OF ARCTICNET)
Éric Dewailly's research often focused on the risks and benefits of a traditional Inuit diet. (PHOTO COURTESY OF ARCTICNET)

(Updated June 18)

ArcticNet researchers are mourning the loss of their colleague, Dr. Éric Dewailly, who died in a rockslide on Réunion Island June 17.

Déwailly was a renowned expert in environmental and human health in the circumpolar world, and a long-time member of ArcticNet, a group of Canadian universities and researchers who focus on the Canadian Arctic.

Déwailly, 59, was visiting a waterfall in the French island nation of La Réunion, east of Madagascar, with family and friends June 17 when a cliff collapsed, injuring four people and killing him and a woman in his party.

“As the pillar of ArcticNet’s human health program, he developed, managed and completed with brio the Amundsen-based Nunavik Health Survey Qanuippitaa? that paved the way to the ensuing health surveys in the other Inuit regions of Canada,” ArcticNet’s directors said in a June 17 release.

“Always enthusiastic about the Arctic and its inhabitants, he continuously proposed new ideas and projects, from research chairs to research institutes. We had so much yet to accomplish together with him.”

Déwailly’s research focused on the consumption of country foods and traditional Inuit diet. He was among the first to find high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in Arctic marine wildlife.

But his research painted a larger picture of both the risks and benefits of a country foods diet that contains contaminants as well as nutrients.

One of the studies Déwailly led found that Inuit men are protected against prostate cancer by eating a traditional diet rich in fish.

Déwailly also worked on the 2004 Qanuippitaa health survey in Nunavik which eventually led to a wider Inuit health survey in Nunavut, Nunatsiavut and the Northwest Territories that began in 2007.

More recently, Déwailly worked with researchers in Bermuda, where they likened local dietary transitions and habits to those of Inuit.

In a June 18 release, the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services paid tribute to Dewailly, calling him the “father of Northern Quebec research.”

His leadership and ability to listen made him a very well-known and much-appreciated researcher in the region, the release said.

“Éric was a generous, kind and inspirational man, always available for the Inuit, and his tremendous work helped us in a way that words cannot fully express,” said Minnie Grey, director of the NRBHSS. “His unique knowledge, his love for the North and his presence will be greatly missed by all.”

Dewailly’s death is yet another blow to Northern research and the ArcticNet family, which lost a scientist, a pilot and a ship captain involved in research in a helicopter crash last September.

The Coast Guard helicopter involved in the crash was based on the research vessel Amundsen, from which University of Manitoba scientist Klaus Hochheim was doing ice observation.

Hochheim, the ship’s captain Marc Thibault and pilot Daniel Dubé died when the helicopter crashed into the McClure Strait near Banks Island.

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