Boreal immensity and Cree traditions

Boreal immensity and Cree traditions

Incursion into Nibiischii, Albanel-Mistassini-and-Waconichi Lakes Wildlife Reserve-Eeyou Istchee James Bay. At the beginning of August, an expedition is underway with the explorer Hélène Phillion, an inveterate kayaker, passionate about hiking, the outdoors and, above all, in love with the North for all that it brings in terms of connection with reality, with native culture, with the traditions.

Text by Josée Marie Côté

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Hélène joins a group of two fishermen, Alexis and Jean-Philippe, accompanied by their Cree guides Allan and Kenneth, and the Hooké film crew, to validate the first phase of the development of an important network of canoe routes in the northwestern part of this James Bay Eeyou Istchee wildlife reserve. Their route will take them 3 hours by logging road north of Chibougamau, to the shores of Robineau Lake, which in the Cree language means a lake where loons are hunted. This is the best time of the summer to explore this vast territory where lovers of econature experiences can quench their thirst for adventure and perfect their knowledge of the traditions of the Cree Nation.

Starting from Robineau Lake, where a "cool box" type base camp has been set up to allow users to plan their canoe-camping trip as much as possible, the team loads up the boats that will take them, in this first stage, 11 kilometers further north, where their campsite awaits them. The par-courses are equipped with many sites specially arranged with teepees as shelters and fish drying racks for the fishermen. These sites are also used in a traditional way by the Cree families of the territory.

An integral part of the Cree territory, the exploration of this natural splendor would not be complete without a foray into the local culture.  The richness and vastness of the area impose humility and respect, two values dear to the Cree nation that inhabits the region, at the limits of the taiga and the Arctic.

Various routes are available to outdoor adventure enthusiasts. The canoe-camping axis of exploration in near autonomy, where the most experienced can test their paddling skills as well as their logistical abilities. A client course is also planned with self-guided tours where the user can be accompanied in the organization of his expedition and receive precise maps to know the safety measures and the exact location of the infrastructures. Regardless of the type of activity prioritized, safety is a primary concern for the reserve's administrators with geolocation points, a safety device including a distress signal and emergency evacuation by helicopter in case of need. This is why it is essential to register before departure in order to choose the level of activity you are looking for and to obtain the necessary logistical support. The Robineau Lake sector offers an exceptional route to navigate that combines the lake and the Robineau River up to the junction of the Canotaicane and Hirondelle lakes where, scattered throughout the routes, facilities for campers have been set up to enhance their journey. For the fishermen who accompanied Hélène on this escapade, the waters were so fishy that they were truly miraculous. The wildlife reserve abounds in a multitude of fish, including the famous pike, an esocid that is of capital importance in Cree culture. 

Hélène, a fan of the North, of its wide open spaces and the richness of its native culture, will always remember her first escapade in the boundless space of the north as the trigger for her addiction to these untamed lands.

 The place names are written in the Cree language, which adds to the authenticity of this large territory. With a bit of curiosity, one can even learn some Cree terms such as "hello, wachiya and thank you, meegwetch". At the end of the day's paddling, Allan and Kenneth, the two experienced Cree guides accompanying the group, in addition to knowing the Nibiischii region inside and out, enjoyed telling stories around the fire about their community's traditions while sharing their recipe for traditional bannock on a stick.

One of the objectives of the expedition was to validate the proposed course, test the campsites, points of interest and various infrastructures. Another goal was to develop new routes for future users to discover as well as their campsites, which proved to be easy to access, well mapped and perfectly integrated into the environment. This immense territory, bordered by majestic black spruce forests extending over 16,000 square kilometers, has more than 5,000 spectacular lakes and rivers. Nibiischii, the name of the corporation operating the wildlife reserve, means "Land of Waters", the place where the great natural waters of the North are born.

After 5 days of paddling and portaging on the countless formations of Lake Robineau and its confluences and 4 nights of testing the different campsites, it is with a head full of memories of fishing, of immersion in the heart of the boreal immensity and of a vibrant culture that our valiant team returns to base camp. While exploring the natural riches of the Albanel-Mistassini-and-Waconichi Lakes Wildlife Reserve, it is still the same feeling of grandeur and humility that inhabits it at the sight of such a majestic spectacle, full of authenticity.

In collaboration with Nibiischii, Tourisme Eeyou-Istchee-Baie-James and Tourisme Autochtone Québec.