Inuk woman’s lonely death possibly due to cardiac event: coroner
Elisapee Pootoogook, 61, died Nov. 12 in Montreal after seeking shelter in condo construction site
Elisapee Pootoogook, an Inuk woman who died after seeking shelter in a downtown Montreal construction site last November, died from natural causes, a Quebec coroner has concluded.
Pootoogook, 61, was found unresponsive in the early hours of Nov. 13 at a construction site on René Lévesque Boulevard near Cabot Square in Montreal.
It’s believed she died sometime overnight after seeking shelter in the construction site of a condominium building. Police determined there was no criminal element in her death.
In the coroner’s report, dated June 16, Dr. Louis Normandin wrote in French that a cardiac event likely caused Pootoogook’s death. He noted she suffered from multiple health issues, including chronic alcoholism, epilepsy, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and malnutrition.
Pootoogook was from Salluit, in Nunavik, and had arrived Nov. 3 in Montreal, where she often went for medical treatment.
Alcohol intoxication was ruled out as a possible cause of death through toxicological analysis and an autopsy was not requested, Normandin wrote.
According to the report, Pootoogook had stopped taking medication to treat her epilepsy after Nov. 6, leading Normandin to consider that an epileptic seizure or a “sudden malignant cardiac arrhythmia” may have also contributed to her death.
Pootoogook’s husband, Noah Koperqualuk, said her death “still affects me today.”
“She was a very good person to me,” Koperqualuk said.
He said she was very good at translation work betweeen English and Inuktitut and enjoyed caring for her young grandchildren. He said she also got along well with her sister, Annie Pootoogook, the renowned Inuk artist who died in Ottawa in 2016.
Koperqualuk said he had not yet seen the coroner’s report when Nunatsiaq News reached him by phone Wednesday, and said he wasn’t notified that it had been completed nearly a month ago.
A coroner’s report is a public documents, but they are released only on request. Koperqualuk said he does not have access to the internet at home.
He said he believes Pootoogook may have frozen to death after spending the night in the construction site, although the coroner’s report does not mention that as a possible factor in her death.
Some Montreal shelter workers who knew Pootoogook remembered her fondly, but also shared their disappointment in the way the coroner’s report frames Pootoogook’s death.
In the report, Normandin wrote: “Ms. Pootoogook never missed the opportunity to run away from” the shelters and wander about the city.
“Here’s this original inhabitant of the land who can’t seem to find a warm, safe place to be, and she ends up spending her last hours on the property of a highly exclusive development that actually already nixed the social housing component of the development,” said David Chapman, project co-ordinator for Resilience Montreal, a day shelter downtown that Pootoogook frequented.
“It’s impossible that you’re going to get [this] deeply humanizing account, but it also should be true that the coroner’s report isn’t reinforcing stereotypes … like ‘that woman should have stayed where she was [at the shelter],’” he said.
“She has been through an enormous amount of trauma, so it’s almost like, because of all the colonialism that happened to her community and the fact that they don’t have hospitals in the community, that it’s her fault because she chose to drink,” said Nakuset, executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal.
Nakuset said she would sometimes bump into Pootoogook while out and about downtown.
“She was lovely. She was always smiling, she was always happy… We do concerts at Cabot Square for National Indigenous Peoples Day, and she used to always show up for those concerts,” Nakuset said.
“Her spirit really shone through despite all the hardships that she was going through.”
Chapman also remembered Pootoogook as “always really lovely to deal with… very respectful and polite.”
“It could be very touching the way in which she engaged her grandkids on the phone, like singing lullabies to them over the phone,” he said.
“She had a very endearing human side, and she could be really funny as well. These are some of the things that can get lost in these narratives.”