Cousin duo praised after rescuing drowning child in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut

John Qirqqut, left, and Ikey Putuguq rescued a young boy who was drowning in Gjoa Haven in late July. (Submitted by Kelly Putuguq)

A woman in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, is raising funds to replace her nephew’s phone that was destroyed when he jumped into the ocean to rescue a drowning child in late July. 

Kelly Putuguq said she’s incredibly proud of her nephew, John Qirqqut, 17, and her son, Ikey Putuguq, 20, who together rescued a young boy on July 23.

“He risked himself and put himself into the ocean,” she said.

“He didn’t even think about anything, but the little boy who went into the ocean.”

Tony Akoak, Gjoa Haven’s MLA, reached out to CBC News about the incident and said he is working to have the pair recognized by the commissioner in the near future.

‘He was in the water’ 

Ikey Putuguq and Qirqqut were at the long dock in the community in the late morning of July 23 when they noticed some children playing. Then they heard a commotion.

“There were kids start yelling and we went to see and he was in the water,” Qirqqut said.

Qirqqut ran and immediately jumped in, fully clothed, while Ikey Putuguq looked for something to use to help pull them out of the water.

“I was looking around for life jackets or anything,” Ikey Putuguq said.

Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, in a file photo from 2021. Two young men rescued a drowning child in the community in late July. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

He was unable to find anything useful, so Qirqqut pulled the child to land and Ikey Putuguq helped get the child out of the water.

The two performed CPR until the child was breathing again. They then got the child onto an ATV and drove to the health centre.

Qirqqut said he’d learned some lifesaving skills from school, which he thinks helped with the situation.

Both Ikey Putuguq and Qirqqut say they’ve never seen any other incident like this, but it was concerning.

“It was scary,” Ikey Putuguq said.

Kelly Putuguq said it’s good that lifesaving skills are offered in school, but it would be useful if there were more programs, including ones available to adults.

“It would be really great if we had more young people learn first aid, even adults need to get the training too. It’s really hard up North to get things done like right away,” Kelly Putuguq said.

Community support

Kelly said when she got a call from her son informing her he was at the health centre she initially thought he was injured. But she was so proud to hear what they had done.

“I shed a few tears here and there,” she said.

Now she is trying to raise funds to replace Qirqqut’s phone, which was ruined when he jumped into the water for the rescue.

Kelly said he never asked for assistance in replacing it, but she knows how much he needs it, especially for school.

“It’s really hard up North … I know a lot of single parents struggle and don’t ask for support,” Kelly said.

She said Qirqqut has a single mother and several siblings who share the phone.

Kelly is hoping to raise $1066 for a new phone, although more would be welcome, as they would like to get the family another phone so they don’t have to share it as much.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: These Labrador teens built their own kayak to save a tradition going back millennia, CBC News

Finland: Sami Parliament in Finland agrees more time needed for Truth and Reconciliation Commission preparation, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Sami education conference looks at how to better serve Indigenous children, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Sami in Sweden start work on structure of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Eye on the Arctic

United States: Alaska reckons with missing data on murdered Indigenous women, Alaska Public Media.

Luke Caroll, CBC News

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