NESKANTAGA FN – Unexpected blizzard conditions stranded a family of four and two hunters who got into difficulties near Neskantaga on Tuesday, forcing Canadian Rangers and community volunteers to mount two rescue operations. One of the rescuers was a 12-year-old boy.
The most serious of the two emergencies involved Maggie Sakanee, who is a Canadian Ranger, who began to experience serious bodily pains while she was at a hunting cabin about 15 kilometres from Neskantaga with her boyfriend and two young children. Heavy winds and more than a foot of fresh snow, with more falling, left them stranded.
They were able to contact the community by radio and pass on her symptoms to the nursing station. The nursing staff decided she needed to get to the station as soon as possible.
Neskantaga has a population of about 400 and limited resources. A recent review found only half a dozen snowmobiles in working condition in the Oji-Cree community, which is 480 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay.
Four community volunteers went to the sick woman’s help on snowmobiles. They were Dominic Moonias, Conrad Moonias, and Allan Moonias and his son Jonah, 12.
“Jonah helped me by going ahead on his snowmobile and breaking trail to get them back to the community,” said his father. “It was so bad he couldn’t see across the lake. He did a good job and really helped.”
The rescuers got the party of four back to the community and the woman was taken to the nursing station for treatment.
A command post was established earlier in the day in the band office to deal with emergency iinvolving the two hunters when the call came in from the stranded party of four at the cabin. Their call for help arrived at the command post only minutes after the hunters had been found and brought back to Neskantaga.
The hunters, brothers Curtis and Sheldon Moonias, left Neskantaga last Saturday to hunt geese after being given a ride on snowmobiles by friends to an area about 15 kilometres from the community. They had shot several geese by the time unexpected blizzard conditions stranded them on Monday.
They were forced to camp under a tarpaulin they had with them and hope to sit out the storm next to a fire. When the bad weather continued and got worse they radioed for help. Lawrence Sakanee and Sandy Moonias, two community volunteers, reached them with difficulty by snowmobile and got them back to Neskantaga, cold and wet but unharmed.
The severe weather prevented the Ontario Provincial Police from flying officers into Neskantaga or flying a police helicopter. So the band council asked the Canadian Army for help.
“It was fortunate that Warrant Officer Jim Currier, one of our instructors, was in Neskantaga and he was able to assist and act as a mentor to Master Corporal Gordon Sugarhead of the local Canadian Ranger patrol, who to set up the command post and organized the search parties with the help of the community’s limited resources,” said Captain Mark Rittwage, the officer commanding the Canadian Rangers in northern Ontario. “They both did a fine job and so did the community volunteers who went out in very bad weather to help the stranded parties and bring them in safely.”
(Sergeant Peter Moon is the public affairs ranger for 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group at Canadian Forces Base Borden.)