Search continues for Kangirsuk foursome

Renowned Nunavik interpreter-translator lost at sea



Nunavimmiut, the Canadian Coast Guard, and local Canadian Ranger divisions continue to work and hope for a happy end to the search for one of Kangirsuk’s most admired women and her family, after their 22-foot freighter canoe went missing off the Ungava Coast last week.

Martha Kauki, 50, mother of four, much admired interpreter-translator and Makivik Corp. board member, along with her husband Joanassie Epoo and two of their children, Jacob Epoo, 20, and Victoria Epoo, 14, were last seen near Aupaluk Aug. 15 as they were returning home from a wedding in Kuujjuaq.

But though it has now been a full week since the family became lost at sea, Kangirsuk Mayor Joseph Annahatak said, at this point, no one believes the family will not come home safe.

And, as of Nunatsiaq News Wednesday deadline, local Nunavimmiut and government search and rescue crews continued to comb Nunavik’s eastern coast in a determined search for the missing foursome.

“Right now, we [the community of Kangirsuk] are just holding together. This is not over until we find something,” Annahatak said. “Looking back to the big search and rescue in Aupaluk this spring, we thought the worst for them, but they came out alive, so we still have hope. I still have hope.”

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Kauki, who has an infectious love for translation and often works with elders in language development workshops, has played a big part in the community, Annahatak said.

He won’t consider the possibility that she and her family will not return.

“Sometimes, I have those thoughts in my mind, but I’m holding them back for now.”

According to a Kativik Regional Police Force press release, Kauki, Epoo and their four children, aged 20, 18,16 and three began their voyage home Aug 14.

Later that day, the family of six met up with another canoe carrying two people, and the two parties set up camp on one of the Leaf Bay islands, just outside of Tasiujaq.

When the two families rose the next morning, the family’s 16-year old daughter and three-year-old adopted child joined the other couple on the second canoe. The two canoes then set out again together.

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But sometime late in the morning of Aug. 15, Annahatak said, the canoes separated. The canoe with the couple and Kauki and Epoo’s eldest daughter and youngest child broke ahead.

“When he [the man aboard the second canoe] lost sight of it [Kauki and Epoo’s canoe] he just kept going. He didn’t think anything of it. Then he waited for half an hour, but the winds were starting to pick up and rains started to pour so he couldn’t wait any more,” he said.

On Saturday, Aug. 16, one boat touched shore in Kangirsuk by mid-afternoon. But by early evening the one carrying Kauki, Epoo, Jacob and Victoria, had still not returned, Annahatak said.

Annahatak then got on the phone to Kangirsuk’s police officer and Johnny Adams, the chair of the Kativik Regional Government, and officially reported the family missing.

An aerial search began the next morning after Adams personally sent out Navajo and Twin Otter aircraft from Kuujjuaq. Canoes were also set to begin searching but strong winds prevented them from setting out. Six canoes finally took to the waters by mid-afternoon.

Mike Bonin, a navy spokesperson, said the Canadian military, and the Halifax-based Rescue Coordination Centre, were first contacted about the missing boat over the weekend.

Shortly after, the RCC called in two coast guard vessels from nearby waters, as well as a helicopter from Goose Bay and a Hercules from Greenwood, N.S. The two coast guard ships also brought in helicopters and fast rescue craft.

By Tuesday afternoon, the search had evolved to include more than 12 canoes, the two coast guard vessels, and helicopters. But Bonin said it has been interrupted several times by bad weather.

“There’s been two major factors. Winds are very, very high right now and there was a lot of fog the first couple of days,” Bonin said. “As well the water temperature has been very chilly, about three degrees.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, the only possible clue to the family’s disappearance was a jerry can found floating about 100 kilometres southeast of Aupaluk. The gas can was taken to Kangirsuk where a family member identified it as belonging to the missing canoe.

But Lieutenant-Commander Denise Laviolette, spokesperson for the RCC, which is managing the search, said the centre has not confirmed a positive identification.

“A family member might have identified the jerry can, but the Rescue Coordination Centre did not,” Laviolette said. “Are they now looking in that area more than anywhere else? I don’t think so at this point in time.”

Bonin, meanwhile, said search and rescue crews, like the community of Kangirsuk, remain hopeful.

“It’s our hope they’re tucked up in an inlet somewhere waiting for the weather to die down, waiting for us to find them,” Bonin said.

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