Deaths in any small community hit harder. Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation is well aware of that as it reels from the deaths of Niko and Ozzy Clair.
Both are dead after an oyster fishing boat capsized in waters near Bayfield, Antigonish County, April 8.
Rose Paul, director of lands and economic development for Paqtnkek, said the community mourns the loss of “two wonderful, enthusiastic young men.”
“They were good boys – great guys. My children were close friends with them, growing up. We watched them grow up into men,” Paul said.
Paul noted both were active in the community, and often could be found working out at the Paqtnkek Wellness Centre or at powwows.
“They carried so much Paqtnkek pride in them. They were so proud to be part of the community and they were proud of everything that was going on,” Paul said. “It’s definitely a loss for us, as the boys enter the spirit world. It’s very sad for a lot of people.”
Paul described Ozzy as “always laughing, joking around,” adding that “he always had something to do, whether he was at the gym or around in the community. He was always enjoying the activities happening here.”
“(Ozzy) was a community member and had a lot of pride in Paqtnkek,” Paul added.
Paqtnkek education director Tanya Francis said of Niko, “he had a loving and caring personality which shined more when he was with his son, Owen. He was great with him and showed him the ropes of what it takes to be a great outdoorsman.”
Francis described Niko as having strong bonds with his oyster crew, and many families in Paqtnkek, with a great deal of respect for them all.
“When the salmon were coming up the river or the ice was thick enough to go eeling, that was where he would often go. He was quite the prankster and often had a good laugh doing so which was contagious, along with his smile,” Francis wrote. “He was very adventurous, outgoing and never afraid of anything. He was proud to be Mi’kmaw and of his roots. He often volunteered when the community needed a fire keeper for ceremonies or at other events.”
“Everyone will miss him dearly. He is in our hearts now and forever and all have special memories of him. He was our hero until the end,” Francis wrote.
Paul said there has been a great deal of pain in the community. She noted the lesson the deaths of Ozzy and Niko taught the community Is, “things can turn very quickly, unexpectedly, and painfully.”
On April 11, Niko and Ozzy were brought back home for a wake that lasted two nights, where their lives and legacies were celebrated and honoured.
“There has been help available with crisis counseling and we have been having sweats in the evening for families,” Paul said, describing the community response.
“It’s hard on the older ones, as we don’t want to see the young ones go – but for our younger generation it’s also so tragic for them,” Paul said. “You just have to look out for everyone and help everyone out, and celebrate the strong, beautiful memories those young men left us.”
Jennifer Clarke, a spokesperson for the RCMP, said the RCMP responded to a call at 3 p.m. Clarke noted a woman called, saying the 16-foot boat capsized near Seagrass Lane, and people were in the water.
When paramedics and police arrived, the woman on the boat – Lenora Prosper, niece of Paqtnkek Chief Paul ‘PJ’ Prosper – was on shore.
Prosper found one of the men on the boat three meters from the shore and pulled him to the beach. The other man was found 65 metres from the shore by an RCMP helicopter that was in the area and was brought to shore by firefighters.
Both were unresponsive, taken to the hospital and pronounced dead on that Monday night [April 8].
Chief Paul ‘PJ’ Prosper lamented the deaths of the two young fathers, who were “quite close, obviously, and worked together and quite enjoyed working in the oyster industry.”
“They loved contributing to the community and participating in the community,” he said. “They were extremely personable and outgoing, and loved by many.”
Chief Prosper, who has been in touch with Prosper’s parents, said “my understanding is that she is doing OK. Obviously being involved in an incident like this, it’s going to take some time for her (to recover).”
According to Clarke, everyone on the boat was wearing a personal flotation device. RCMP consulted Prosper after the boat capsized but Clarke noted she was unsure whether Prosper said anything about what caused the boat to capsize.
The federal Transportation Safety board went to the community last week as part of the investigation, and the provincial Labour Department is also investigating the deaths.
With files from Ian Fairclough