Celebration in Nunavut as family, friends welcome beloved elder home

Celebration in Nunavut as family, friends welcome beloved elder home

by Sue Jones
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Horns honked, people cheered — “you could feel the happiness,” said CBC Nunavut’s Pauline Pemik, as Nunavut elder Raymond Ningeocheak returned home after a year of medical care in Ottawa.

Raymond Ningeocheak

Raymond Ningeocheak, right, spent a few hours in a bed on board a special medevac flight from Ottawa to Coral Harbour, Nunavut, on Monday. He returned north after about a year in care in Ottawa, hundreds of miles from his family. (Pauline Pemik/CBC)

A month of fundraising and one three-hour flight later, elder Raymond Ningeocheak is home at last in Coral Harbour, Nunavut.

Ningeocheak spent the past year receiving care for conditions including dementia at the Embassy West Senior Living Facility in Ottawa. His plight sparked a protest in Iqaluit by people calling for more elder care facilities in the territory after his daughter went public with the $45,000 bill the family was facing to fly him home.

On Friday, Ningeocheak’s daughter Sarah Netser said the family had raised enough money for his return. He flew back to Coral Harbour Monday.

“I am so thankful,” Netser said in Inuktitut. “I feel so small now, looking at how much help we’ve received. To all those who shared and donated, may God bless you all.”

Raymond Ningeocheak

Ningeocheak’s family raised about $38,000 to fly him home. (Pauline Pemik/CBC News)

Ningeocheak is well-known in Nunavut. He spent nearly 40 years with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., which represents about 30,000 Inuit. Over the years, he has advocated for Inuit hunting rights and made a push for wildlife management plans to reflect traditional knowledge.

In January, Netser said her father’s health was declining at Embassy West and he wanted to come home. She also said her family was prepared to take on the work of caring for him. However, because Ningeocheak was not cleared by doctors to leave medical care, the territorial government said it could not help cover the cost of his trip home. 

The journey home Monday brought an end to weeks of fundraising as his family sought to cover the costs of the special charter flight as well as renovations so they could care for him at home.

Raymond Ningeocheak

Ningeocheak, centre, bids farewell to the staff at Embassy West Senior Living Facility in Ottawa, who spent the past year caring for him. (Pauline Pemik/CBC News)

CBC North’s Pauline Pemik travelled with Ningeocheak from Ottawa to Coral Harbour. She told Igaalaq host Joanna Awa in Inuktitut that after Ningeocheak left Embassy West, he was himself again.

“You could see the difference in his eyes — they were bright again … and just more energy,” Pemik said in Inuktitut. “It was something I’ll always remember, to see an Elder rejuvenate right before my eyes.”

Pemik said the whole community came out to welcome Ningeocheak home. Horns honked, people cheered — “you could feel the happiness,” she said.

  • Watch CBC North’s Pauline Pemik describe Raymond’s trip home to Igalaaq host Joanna Awa, in Inuktitut

Live Pemik Ningeocheak

Elder returns to Nunavut after a year in Ottawa

Beloved Nunavut elder Raymond Ningeocheak returned to his family in Coral Harbour, Nunavut, after spending a year in a long-term care facility in Ottawa. CBC North’s Pauline Pemik travelled with him. She describes the experience to Igalaaq host Joanna Awa in Inuktitut. 9:28

After Ningeocheak disembarked from his medevac flight, people gathered on the tarmac as he greeted them by name.

Anne Crawford, a lawyer who was involved in the effort to bring Ningeocheak home, said the family raised a total of more than $38,000.

“It was very impressive and supportive, the amount of money that came in — and it came in in $150, $200, $350 [amounts] … it was fundamentally individual donations,” she said.

Crawford noted that Ningeocheak’s return isn’t only good for him, but it’s also good for the community to have him home where he can contribute.

“He wanted to come home because he wanted to be there for his grandchildren and his great grandchildren,” she said.

Pemik noted that the return was bittersweet, as many more Nunavut elders remain far from home, receiving care that’s not available in the North. 

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