Waskaganish rolls out traditional welcome and lodging for visitors
'Most natural welcome I've had,' said visiting camp guide
For Stacy Bear, building a traditional camp for visitors to sleep in is a way to both extend a Cree welcome to travellers and to break down barriers between different cultures.
Each summer, people arrive by car or canoe in her community of Waskaganish, Quebec, located where the Rupert River flows into James Bay. They often park their RVs or pitch tents on the outskirts of town and then leave the next day without coming into town at all.
"They'd be gone early the next day without really interacting or visiting or seeing or experiencing our culture and our people," said Bear, who is the manager of Waskaganish's culture and tourism department.
So this summer her team tried something different. They built two traditional wigwams and a teepee with a fire pit in a field right beside the river. They were offered to visitors as a place to sleep for just $10 a night per person.
Built traditional camp
The wigwams are made of freshly cut branches tied together and covered with canvas and tarps, with spruce boughs covering the floor.
Most natural welcome I've had- Nicolas Dagenais, guide with Camp Minogami
The traditional camp is also outfitted with some basic equipment such as a propane stove, and access to water and mattresses. Guests are also given the chance to meet with elders and take part in some traditional activities, such as cooking geese over a fire, making bannock on a stick and woodworking.
Bear says about 60 people have stayed in the traditional camp so far this summer, including several non-Indigenous youth taking part in canoe expeditions on nearby rivers: the Pontax, Nottaway and Broadback.
Nicolas Dagenais is a guide with one such group - Camp Minogami from Shawinigan. The camp's Broadback River expedition is a 35-day canoe camping trip that ends at the Cree community of Waskaganish.
It's a trip the camp has made for years. For the last five years, they have been sharing traditional meals and creating deeper ties with members of the community.
This year for the first time, they stayed right in town at the traditional camp.
"It was one of the warmest and most natural welcomes I've had in my whole young life," said Dagenais, 26, adding he has travelled extensively through Canada and the United States and it was by far the best welcome he's had.
Dagenais says several people in the community went out of their way to make his group feel welcome and one elder organized a woodworking workshop and helped the youth carve small wooden paddles as souvenirs.
For Stacy Bear, manager of Waskaganish's culture and tourism department, it's about making connections and learning how much people have in common regardless of where they come from.
"It's extremely eye opening for them to experience and get to know our culture, our people and to realize that we're not so different after all," said Bear.
Bear says the traditional camp will be back with improvements next summer and her department plans to set up a winter camp across the river this year. Longer term, her vision is to set up a more permanent space with a traditional camp and spots for RVs with services.