Thursday, October 25, 2018

A Visit to Mistissini

I touched down at the Chibougamau-Chapais airport in the morning, where instantly the cold and rainy weather reminded me I am now in the kingdom of the black spruce. This vast virgin territory in North Central Quebec possesses unsuspected natural and human wealth. Bordering the taiga and tundra on the north, it is full of immense lakes, rushing rivers of crystalline waters and never-ending forests.

I drove up highway 167 N to a community called Mistissini. Mistissini is the largest Cree community of the James Bay Cree of Quebec, Canada. The Cree Nation of Mistissini is situated at the south-east end of Mistassini Lake - the largest freshwater lake in Quebec - and is also in the centre of the largest wildlife reserve in the province. 

The Cree have lived in the region for thousands of years, and their lifestyle is based on hunting, fishing and trapping. The Crees of Mistissini have been long-establish in the Mistassini Lake area, surrounded by the forests, lakes and streams of the region.  ‘Mistissini’, Cree for ‘big rock’, was formerly referred to as Mistassini or Baie du Poste. The Mistissini Crees cherish their rich cultural heritage, vital present and vibrant future.

Driving through the Mistissini main roads, I could sense the effort that has been put into the creative architecture and innovative design of new building construction. Their newly designed structures are known to use sustainably locally sourced building materials. They are looking at becoming a more eco-friendly destination, and combining innovation and tradition into their their construction is a key element to infrastructure development.

I had the opportunity to meet with Mistissini community members and hear them talk about their land and culture, hopes and aspirations for their community. I met with people who spoke to me openly about their Cree cultures, their challenges and difficulties on a daily basis as urbanization and modernization is settling among them. But I learned that even though the town is growing with modern amenities and services, they are still grounded in their traditions. They have a high respect for Elders and they believe in empowering and investing in Youth. As one Mistissini community leader described it: ‘Our Elders hold the wisdom of past generations, our Youth are the key to the future. Both groups are essential to a strong, healthy community.’ A sense of sustainability is embedded in their vision and deepest values.

Respect for culture, protection of the environment, support for entrepreneurship and improvement of the living conditions of the community are pillars for the development of the community and the development of Mistissini as a tourist destination. Mistissini has the potential to offer distinctive and comprehensive experiences by integrating the values of sustainable development, sharing of traditions, and community integration. 

Up north highway 167, I found a kind, passionate and strong community.   Thank you for hosting CES on starting your exciting cultural camp project.  


A Legacy Launched for Cultural Entrepreneurs

‘In order for us to preserve our culture and empower our community socially and economically we need to utilize tourism as a vehicle and use AIM Authentic Indigenous Momentsto drive us into the future’ says Titus Shecapio – Economic Development Manager for the Cree Nation of Mistissini, QC.  

Canadian Ecotourism Services (CES) is proud to officially launch its AIM Authentic Indigenous Moments™ platform. This platform allows cultural entrepreneurs to supply their services and experiences directly to tourists, while preserving and sharing their culture with experiential activities ranging anywhere from an hour to a full day.  

CES’ founder - Clinton Belcher - developed AIM Authentic Indigenous Momentsas a legacy project to empower local cultural entrepreneurs to do what they love.  Throughout his travels he recognized the challenges faced by cultural preservers to effectively share their knowledge with tourists.  Often their ideas or moments had to be translated into an extensive business plan, and moreover, they were expected to manage the business side of the activity making it almost impossible to get their idea of the ground.

Clinton says the industry needs to recognize that without cultural entrepreneurs there will be no Indigenous tourism, and the only way to build Indigenous tourism is to use grassroots tourism solutions and empower the people who are keepers of knowledge and culture.  

With AIM Authentic Indigenous Moments™ they join a community serviced by a platform that takes care of their accounting, branding, marketing, and booking service. All the entrepreneur has to do is confirm their booking and go out and do what they love - without a full-time commitment or unrealistic start-up costs.

Clinton gives all the credit to champions like Titus Shecapio and Conrad Mianscum of the Cree Nation of Mistissini who have purchased the AIM program for their tourism department, which includes developing an effective business model and training. 

Mistissini’s AIM Authentic Indigenous Momentsproject will launch in early 2019.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Policies + Practices + Procedures = $$$!

Policies, practices, procedures – all terms you’ve likely heard, and probably things you know you should have for your business. But do you know the difference between them – and more importantly, do you know how they can save AND make you money?
Here is how we define these terms:
  • Policy – an overarching principle, goal, or objective.
  • Practice – a task or action that supports the Policy.
  • Procedure – step-by-step instructions for these specific tasks and actions.

 So for example:
  • Policy – the safety of our guests and staff are of paramount importance on our snowmobile tours.
  • Practice – all of our equipment is checked regularly to ensure it is in proper working order.
  • Procedure – prior to departing with guests, check all engine fluid levels; inspect skis and track for damage; ensure safety/repair kit is fully stocked and stored.

So, how does this earn you money and save you money?  Firstly, clearly defined and implemented policies, practices, and procedures will ultimately provide better and more enjoyable experience for your guests. Happy guests spend more money, stay longer, will come back again, and will tell their friends. All of this is great for your profitability!
Secondly, with clear direction, guidance, and support, your staff will perform better and stick around longer. What happens when you have high-performing, experienced staff? See the first example.
Lastly, we operate in industries that are more prone to injuries and accidents than many others. Staff injuries can result in increased Workers Compensation Board premiums, fines, and litigation. Guest injuries can lead to devastating lawsuits and an equally damaging loss of business.
Creating workplace policy, HR, and safety manuals may not be the most exciting task on your to-do list; but it can pay significant dividends to your business over time. See if you can get started on your own, search for templates online, or consider hiring a company that can create comprehensive and customized manuals for your business.

Preserving & Sharing Our Pristine Landscapes Through Ecotourism

CES recently received a phone call from a man in Poplar River First Nation inquiring about our services. He is an entrepreneur who is looking to start up his own ecotourism business based out of his remote community, here in Manitoba. He hopes to take visitors out by canoe or boat for a 6-day tour on the river, while camping along the way.

Poplar River is an Ojibway community with an on-reserve population of 1500 people. There is no permanent road-access to Poplar River. Although it may appear that certain challenges would make it difficult to establish a sustainable business based around bringing visitors into the community, there are still many individuals whose passion and desire to share their culture and teachings on the land is stronger than the obstacles, such as our friend from Poplar River.

The natural environment surrounding the community of Poplar River can be described in no better way than pristine. The land and water are unpolluted and there is no industrial activity happening in the general region. This area is covered by swaths of Boreal forest, countless lakes, rivers and bogs, where moose, bear, beaver and woodland caribou go undisturbed. Having spent a significant amount of time in this beautiful environment, I personally know how truly special it is. There are not many places left like this one.

Hence the reason and desire that locals have to share its beauty with visitors. I am a firm believer in the power of experiencing wilderness first-hand; there is something indescribable about spending time in nature and its ability to teach us about ourselves and our relationship to the world.

The value of nature (and its intricate link to Indigenous culture) was formally recognized this past summer with Canada’s first mixed UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. Pimachiowin Aki, or “the land that gives life” is a territory encompassing 29,000 square kilometres of untouched Boreal forest on both sides of the Manitoba/Ontario boarder. Acquiring World Heritage Status was an incredible accomplishment, a process which spanned 17 years and has been a collaboration between 4 First Nation communities.

In the past, CES has had the pleasure of working with the Pimachiowin Aki Corporation in creating a Go Forward Strategy to identify objectives and opportunities for pursuing land-based cultural tourism and ecotourism within Pimachiowin Aki. We are excited to see how the UNESCO designation will help bring awareness to the region and help cultural entrepreneurs develop their ecotourism-based businesses.

Poplar River First Nation falls within Pimachiowin Aki and the community has been a key proponent in pursuing the UNESCO designation. As a company, we at CES obtain inspiration from our clients; individuals who are pursuing their passions for sharing their culture, preserving their land and bringing meaningful benefits to their communities. We wish our friend from Poplar River all the success in his ecotourism venture.

To learn more about Poplar River First Nation, visit their website:

An article and video about Sophia and Ray Rabliauskas from Poplar River who helped establish the UNESCO World Heritage Status for Pimachiowin Aki:

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Travel and The Meeting

Travellers of all ages, resources, and experience are looking for more engaging and meaningful experiences. People are seeking a travel experience ‘with a human face' where the key element is authenticity and the desire is to get as close to 'the real deal' as possible. Travellers are looking for human encounters that create moments of great emotion whether they're immersing themselves deep in culture for weeks or months or planning their one or two precious weeks of vacation time. Don't we all want more than a manufactured tourism experience and the ability to hear the true cultural narrative of a place?

But how to obtain such things? Let's explore ways to experience a new place to the fullest by making a real connection with others - a genuine, local, and authentic relationship. And not surprisingly, it all starts by looking at our own attitudes and practicing self-awareness.

Leaving our Ego Behind
Egocentrism has no place when seeking authentic travel experiences. Besides, on a journey we tend to become strangers while exploring lands unknown to us. Forgetting for a time our identity, our roots and our social status. We forgot our certainties and rest on the same pedestal as the people whom we meet, without judging values of inferiority or superiority. Respecting each other's differences with empathy and kindness is already a great step forward.

Listening Rather Than Speaking
Because listening is the basis of all relationships, dialogue is essential for fostering meaningful travel experiences. To listen with altruism and humanity and to argue without imposing one's certainty is an opening for dialogue, an essential element in the relationship with others. Without dialogue, we cannot fully experience our encounters with others. The journey begins when we allow ourselves to become fully immersed in a place, by listening to what it has to tell us. 

By Taming the Unknown
When travelling in a new place, our certainties are questioned and our habits are shaken. This new place scares us, and modifies our vision of the world, especially if one wishes to travel alone. To travel and discover unknown lands and cultures and to observe the plurality of worlds, is also to confront one's apprehensions and weaknesses and to go beyond one's comfort zone. To expose yourself to the unknown and the unpredictable, opens you up to the unveiling of yourself, often repressed or unexploited. The trip makes you grow!

By Indulging in Slowness
At work and at home, ‘taking the time' is not a common practice. It is necessary that we go fast! But it is all about the art of living slowly; of stopping, of taking the time to listen, to gaze, to feel and not to conduct visits at high speed while simply accumulating photos, memories and numbers of places visited. Slowness is wisdom.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Local Community Champion Driving Economic Development Through Cultural Preservation

Upon first meeting David Kattegatsiak of Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut, he seems like your regular Economic Development Officer. But David’s desire to bring meaningful benefits to his community and passion to preserve local heritage and culture are unquestionable and evident in every project that he undertakes.

CES has had the pleasure of working with David and the community of Chesterfield Inlet for the past 4 years. As somewhat of a new member of the CES team, the project that I have been most intimately involved with has been Chesterfield Inlet’s 5-Year Community Economic Development Plan. Throughout this project, I have experienced first-hand the drive and determination that David has to push projects forward to create lasting benefits for his community.

Chesterfield Inlet 2023: Community Economic Development Plan is based on providing realistic recommendations for social and economic development, that are based on the needs and opinions of community members. David’s intimate knowledge of local and territorial conditions has enabled CES to provide meaningful suggestions that are both feasible and achievable and will help Chesterfield move towards its community goals.

David is also championing Chesterfield Inlet’s efforts to develop sustainable cultural tourism and ecotourism. Chesterfield Inlet’s beautiful community website is attractive, inviting and illustrates a true representation of what the community has to offer. The professionally developed site allows potential visitors to see the ‘real Chesterfield’ and immerse themselves in beautiful photos of the community’s arctic landscapes, history and get acquainted with some of Chesterfield’s warm and welcoming community members.

It is no secret that one of David’s passions is his home community’s history and heritage. Another one of David’s notable projects is the preservation of the community’s historical sites and heritage buildings. Chesterfield Inlet possesses some remarkable ancient Thule sites, that were inhabited by the ancestors of the modern-day Inuit. These heritage sites include the remains of ancient homes, fox traps, food caches and kayak stands all made from stones. The community’s archaeological treasures and historical sites have inspired David to pursue an Archaeological Mapping project that aims develop interpretive signage as well as an interactive map of the community’s heritage resources.

Chesterfield Inlet’s dedication to its cultural past does not stop at preserving its physical heritage resources. The knowledge of Elders and traditional Inuit traditional knowledge, referred to as Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit is actively being preserved via the community’s digital storytelling project, Chesterfield Inlet StoriesIt is here that the community’s history and contemporary culture is showcased through an interactive storytelling platform. The website and mobile app encourage community members to share their stories of hunting on the land, family and many other important aspects of Inuit life.

In Chesterfield Inlet the groundwork has been laid for a truly authentic and memorable cultural tourism destination and a big portion of the credit for this is owed to David. From the community’s historical walking tour to a  community-wide 5-year tourism strategy, David’s commitment to promote his culture and bring economic benefits to his community is undeniably strong and admirable.